Digitization kicks off with hiccups

02 Nov,2012

By A Correspondent


Analogue cable television signals were switched off by broadcasters and multiple system operators (MSOs) at midnight of October 31, 2012 in Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi, claims a communique by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Analogue Cable TV signals were allowed to continue in Chennai due to the interim stay granted by the Madras High Court.


Indeed, but the situation on the ground was different. For one, it at the stroke of midnight not all signals were off. And two, in Kolkata, the opposition is State-sponsored.


However, a beginning has been made, and that’s what matters. A senior media planner told MxMIndia that all stakeholders must come together fast and work towards total digitization as it will only harm legitimate revenues for all. Advertisers and media agencies will be compelled to negotiate if indeed what certain sections of cable operators are being quoted as saying. “Why doesn’t the MIB through its people in Mumbai reach out to Anil Parab and get him on the negotiating table? Senior broadcasters need to tell the government that this is not the occasion for brinkmanship


Here goes the rest of the MIB communique:

A total of 64.31 lakh Set Top Boxes (STBs) have been installed in the four metro cities in the first phase of digitization during the span of about 10 months from November 2011, that is, from the date of notification. First phase of digitization covers four metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. As per 2011 Census figures, a total of 103.76 lakh households are there in the four metro cities. At an average rate of 80% TV penetration as per the Census, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had estimated that about 82.59 lakh households will have TV sets. After deducting 28.14 lakh DTH connections , it was estimated that there would be 65.34 lakh Cable TV subscribers who would require Set Top Boxes.


As per the data provided by the MSOs , the percentage of digitization in Delhi has gone up to 101%. In Mumbai it is 118% whereas in Kolkata it is 85% and in Chennai it stands at 63%.


The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had notified necessary amendments in Cable Television Networks Rules 1995 to create an enabling environment for Cable TV digitization. TRAI had also brought out necessary regulatory framework by notifying Tariff, Inter Connection, Complaint Redressal System and Quality of Service Regulations. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has also issued 53 provisional registrations to MSOs to operate in DAS areas.


The ministry had embarked on an aggressive Public Awareness Campaign in the Electronic and Print Media. Six video spots and 12 radio jingles were brought out by the ministry for broadcast on television and radio. An intensive SMS Campaign was also launched on the Mobile phones. Additionally cinema slides and hoardings on bus shelters etc, were also put up. The ‘Blackout Advertisement’ carried out by the ministry on all prominent television channels created a massive public awareness about the digitization deadline. More than 200 channels carried the ‘blackout advertisement’ of the ninistry on the same day and time in a synchronized fashion which is a record of sorts.


The ministry has been closely monitoring procurement and progress of installation of STBs by various MSOs regularly. Additionally, data was also collected from DTH operators on a daily basis. A Special Task Force was constituted to steer the entire process which consisted of various stakeholders. The Task Force met on fortnightly basis and held 20 meetings so far. Ministry also launched a Facebook account and started a special website on digitization. Sub-groups constituted by the ministry for national level MSOs, independent MSOs and Local Cable Operators helped the Ministry to get a feed back from ground. Extensive field visits were taken up by officials from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and technical teams from BECIL which is a Public Sector Undertaking of the I&B Ministry. The field visits were taken to assess the ground realities and provide continuous feedback so that the digitization process could incorporate the learning from the field.


A toll-free number was also designated to answer queries of people about digitization. In the countdown to the digitization, the ministry has set up a Control Room with five telephone lines to provide clarifications to people and answer their queries. The Control Room of the Ministry received more than 5000 calls within a span of 15 days.


Digital Cable TV system has a number of inherent advantages such as Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) which gives the information for the current programme as well as the programmes to come up. It also provides features like Movies-on-Demand and Games. A cable subscriber in digital system has facility to log in their complaints either on the toll free number or in the Subscriber Complaint Redressal System on the web, wherein redressal of the complaint can be tracked. The consumer has a choice to select channel packages as per their choice or to select from a-la-carte list. The bill is generated by the system as per the channels chosen by the Cable subscriber. In addition to these special features the digital cable TV system provides superior picture and sound of digital quality and the consumer have a choice to select from a wide range of channels which was limited to only about 80-90 channels in an analogue system. The consumer can also subscribe to the HD channels. Digital Cable TV system will also enable the provision of Triple Play services on the same Cable TV network wherein in addition to the TV programmes, internet, radio, telephony etc., would also be available through the same cable line.


The ministry has instructed all MSOs to certify that their analogue signals have been switched off completely. They have also been asked to set up canopies/kiosks in poorer colonies to ensure set-top boxes are made available to them at the determined price of Rs 799 on the spot. MSOs have also been asked to ensure the consumer is not overcharged for the set-top boxes. MSOs have also been advised to advertise their complaint number so that nobody takes any undue advantage of the situation.


The technical teams deployed by the Ministry in the field are constantly on the move to inspect the head ends of the MSOs in Delhi and Mumbai. It has been reported that analogue signals have been switched off from all the head-ends in Delhi and Mumbai while Kolkata has given mixed reports.


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