[60 Days to D-Day] Digitization in 4 metros will not happen by July 1: JS Kohli

02 May,2012

Late Monday night, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) announced the new tariff structure for digital cable TV services. Under the new rules, all cable operators will have to mandatorily offer a Basic Service Tier (BST) to viewers which would consist of 100 free to air channels, including 18 mandatory Doordarshan channels, as well as the Lok Sabha channel. The tariff order states that apart from the mandatory channels in the BST, cable operators and Multi System Operators (MSOs) will have to provide customers a minimum of five channels of different genres.


The authority also stated that MSOs will have to increase their channel carrying capacity. TRAI stated: “The Authority has mandated MSOs to carry a minimum of 500 channels from January 1, 2013. However, keeping in view that smaller MSOs having less than 25,000 subscribers may need some additional time for building capacity, they have been given time up to April 1, 2013.” The TRAI has prescribed that every MSO should have a minimum capacity to carry 200 channels by July 1.


TRAI has also established new guidelines for revenue sharing between Multi System Operators (MSOs) and Local Cable Operators (LCOs).


MxMIndia’s Shruti Pushkarna spoke to Mr Jagjit Singh Kohli, a veteran of the cable industry and CEO of cable distribution firm Digicable, on his reading of the latest order issued by TRAI and if he thinks the sunset date of June 30 is still achievable.


What’s your first response to the Tariff Order?

Well, the order is on expected lines, no big surprises there. Given the circumstances, I am happy with it, in the sense that we know the regulatory has been operating under tremendous pressure from various stakeholders, so given that situation, I am actually happy with the order.


TRAI has observed that the Order will help profitability of channels. But carriage fee exists. Do you think the bottom line will be impacted for both broadcasters and the cable trade?

The channel capacity is increasing to 500 channels, so automatically the pressure on carriage will reduce. So, although the carriage fee remains but the channel capacity itself is increasing so much that the price per channel will come down.


Given the status as of today, do you see the implementation happening in the four metros before July 1?

Now, that I don’t think will happen. We will need a postponement of at least three to four months. The tariff order has just come; there are so many other issues such as DAS licenses being not issued till date. To meet the deadline the industry needs to deploy atleast 150,000 boxes every day, only then will we be able to meet that deadline, and that’s impossible.


What about the availability of set-top boxes?

Even that is an issue. But even if set top boxes were to be made available, it would be very difficult to meet the deadline.


Do you think the government is doing enough to promote the switch to digitization and explain the benefits to consumers?

Yes, you can’t blame them on this. They have been quite aggressive on the timelines and in their campaigns.


Are there any areas of worry in the run-up to digitization (given that we have just 60 days to go)?

The only area of worry is that we will need some more time to meet the deadline, otherwise everything is fine.


Photograph: Fotocorp


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