Stop this farce of 87% digitization!

23 Oct,2012


By Pradyuman Maheshwari and Ananya Saha


It’s unfortunate. Every stakeholder MxMIndia spoke to says that there is a lot to be achieved on digitization, but no one appears to have the guts to tell Minister Ambika Soni that achieving 100 percent digitization on November 1 is well-nigh impossible.


Just because the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have committed to a date, it doesn’t mean that they need to continue the charade endlessly.


According to the numbers revealed by the MIB mandarins, 87 percent of the four metros are digitized. This number includes those who have subscribed to DTH. In Mumbai, the number is said to be 100 percent.


This info is based on communiqué MxMIndia received yesterday: The recent review of the digitization progress by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has revealed that 81% of Cable TV Digitization has already been achieved in the four metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. The figure is estimated to go up to 87% if the progress made by DTH is also taken into account. DTH operators have informed that 27 lakh boxes have been installed so far in the four Metro cities.


Mumbai has already achieved nearly 100% digitisation. In the three other cities, Kolkata has achieved 78% digitisation in cable alone while the DTH percentage of digitisation in Kolkata has gone up to 81%. In Delhi, the digitisation percentage of cable TV is 74% and DTH has gone up to 81%. Chennai has registered 60% cable digitisation and 85% in DTH penetration.


As per the data provided by MSOs, currently about 45,000 Set Top Boxes are being installed per day in the designated four Metro cities. However, the local cable operators MxM India spoke to said that the statistics are not true. “The data is not true. Since June till date, two MSOs have not provided set-top boxes. It is festival season here and no one is bothered right now. We are not getting any seeding requests. Penetration is still less here. The true picture of percentage of consumers who have digitized will come to fore after November 1,” said Swapan Chowdhury, General Secretary, Cable & Broadband Operators’ Welfare Association, Kolkata.


Agreeing with him was Arvind Prabhoo, Owner, Orbit Television Network, who said, “Mumbai is nowhere close to 100%. I still have 400 STBs in my office.” He said that only 60-65% homes in Mumbai have been digitised so far. Another cable operator in Delhi, who did not wish to be named, refuted the figures.


An operator affiliated to the network told MxMIndia that the MSO had still not taken a small operator like him in confidence. Claiming that only 65 percent of his userbase was digitized, he said according to him that’s the non-DTH figure he has for the rest of the city. The cable operator didn’t want to be named due to fear of being reprimanded by the government. The CEO and CFO of the MSO the operator spoke of were not available for comment despite repeated attempts to reach them.


Ashok Mansukhani

Ashok Mansukhani, President, MSO Alliance, said, “We have no reasons to disbelieve the data by the government. The local cable operators have a reason to not believe in the data because they still have to come in terms with the fact that there is less than 10 days to go for digitisation.”


Another MSO, who did not wish to be named, said while the earlier figures were based on the assumption of single TV homes, the data now reflects second TV sets for 20% homes, and only 4-5% figures might be off-the-mark.


With less than 10 days to go, it remains to be seen how phase one of digitisation will progress. As the interplay between stakeholders’ increases, MxM India will continue to deliver unbiased reportage on digitization. And also attempt to independently assess the extent of digitization.


Large or small MSOs are concerned about how much digitization will impact their livelihood via carriage fees. Local cable operators have just begun to realize that their margins will be reduced much. And some popular channels will not be part of the packages from your cable operator. Negotiations on these may well reach the midnight of October 31.


What one hopes for though is that rather than make it a ‘prestige issue’ as one operator chose to call it, the government makes an honest assessment of the on-ground situation before asking broadcasters to pull the plug on analogue signals in the four metros.


Digitization is the way to go, but there was much to be achieved in the execution of the process.


(Pssst! Not all the TV sets in the homes of the MxMIndia team located in Mumbai and Delhi are digitized)


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