Stakeholder view of one month of digitization

30 Nov,2012

 

By Ananya Saha

 

It has been a month of mandatory digitization in the three metros of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Even though government officials may make us believe that the metros are completely digitized, , the ground reality appears to be different. Analogue signals continue to be available, and not all stakeholders are happy with the way things are shaping up. Meanwhile, in Chennai, the digitzation hearing has been postponed by four weeks. It is likely to happen only by December 31, though given a cloud over whether the government will be allowed to run a cable service (in Arasu Cable),  will be allowed to be

 

Man Jit singh

Calling the Phase I a tremendous success for industry, Man Jit Singh, President of the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) and CEO, Multi Screen Media said, “Digitization has been a huge success. The kinds of effort that was done to get digitized, no where in the world have we seen this kind of achievement has been done. Kolkata has not reached 100% digitization yet, but I think it will get there.” He also acknowledged that fact that there are few illegal signals in Delhi and Mumbai but assured that the IBF is working with other stakeholders to have these illegal signals completely switched off.

 

 

Roop Sharma

On the other hand, Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) highlighted how none of the promises made on digitization by MIB have been achieved so far. She said, said, “During Parliament discussion on the Cable TV Act Amendment Bill last November, the then I&B Minister Ambika Soni said digitization will provide choice of channels to consumers-through a-la-carte selection, provide high quality service, controlled pricing of pay channels and thus lowered billing to consumers, and that consumer to pay only for what they wish to watch. Consumers were to get internet video-on-demand and value added services through set-top-boxes, and she had said that small cable operators will not be rendered unemployed, there will be transparency and correct accounting of channel viewership, govt will get tax on all connections as no under-declaration will exist, and that there will be no ambiguity in TRP ratings. Now, with one month of digitisation over, has this been achieved?” She is of the view that nothing that I&B Minister had promised the Parliament has been achieved yet and still, the Ministry has announced successful completion of phase I and started roll out of phase II.

 

The figures

Swapan Chowdhury

Currently, according to various stakeholders, over 95% digitization has been achieved in Delhi and Mumbai even as Kolkata trails behind with quite a less percentage. Swapan Chowdhury, General Secretary, Cable & Broadband Operators’ Welfare Association, Kolkata, however, estimated, “Mumbai achieved 75% digitization and 70% in Delhi while digitization in Kolkata is only about 40-45%.”

 

Mr Chowdhury also said that the actual activation of set-top boxes in November for Kolkata has been than a lakh. Arvind Prabhoo, Owner, Orbit Television Network, Mumbai said that the actual reason behind high numbers from Mumbai is because of stopping of analogue signals. “Most of the networks have reported 90-95% switchover in Mumbai. This figure has happened after the stoppage of analogue signals. We were hardly touching 60-65% before the analogue signals were not switched off. Even then, at least 35-40% people have not taken to digitisation voluntarily.” Though the piracy is still an issue in some pockets of Mumbai, over 8-9 lakh STBs were installed this month alone.

 

Certainties and Uncertainties

“There are certain distributors who have not made their pricing policy clear yet. There us a lot of confusion over revenue-sharing. One of the major issue is Entertainment Tax. If the govt charges Rs 45 per STB connection, does that mean every house that has two television sets, pays Rs 90 entertainment tax,” voiced Mr Prabhoo.

 

Ms Sharma said that broadcasters are making lumpsum deals with MSOs for pay channels and not based on the number of consumers opting for those channels. “Hence, there are no accurate figures. Discrimination is rampant. Rates of pay channels are not based on market demand but whims of the large content aggregators, vertical monopoy business houses/ companies like MediaPro who enjoy monopoly in pay TV content distribution,” she remarked.

 

Ashok Mansukhani

Although, the DTH operators this writer reached were unavailable for comment, there have been mixed reports on its success rate. While one report says it has done well in the Capital where the availability of analogue signals has been low, MSO Alliance chief Ashok Mansukhani has another view. “DTH is surprised at its poor performance. They need to take a call on what they are upto: have they grown in the last six months,” he asked. “According to statistics, it’s 70:30 in favour of cable and that is not going to change soon. Where did cable have the capacity to retain 70% of cable base? For DTH, there is enormous churn which is as much as 33% of the total amount claimed. And how come the government doesn’t take the churn into account,” asks Mr Mansukhani.

 

While Ms Sharma and Mr Prabhoo said that the issue of carriage fees has not been sorted out yet either, Mr Man Jit Singh sounded optimistic, “We expect there will be decrease in carriage fees as digitization rolls out for simple reason that the capacity constraint of analogue system will go away. However, carriage fees is not going away completely and it will take time. Both broadcasters and MSOs are working together to make a gradual transition to reach a stage economically in the short run so that it sorts itself out in the long run. We feel that carriage fees is moving in the right direction.”

 

Phase II: Lessons from Phase I

Phase I was not a smooth ride. And Phase II will be even tougher since it will be rolled out in 38 cities simultaneously. Apart from stronger communication aimed at the end consumer, the stakeholders need to tighten their belt for doing their bits too.

 

Mr Mansukhani said that in the second phase, more attention should be given to the consumers and less to the broadcaster. “Awareness creation by all stakeholders is necessary since once people are aware, they are open to change. In the phase I, we were not communicated on the need of digitization and we still do not know why digitisation is happening,” said Mr Prabhoo.

 

Ms Sharma said insisted that for the next phase transparency is required on each level: between broadcasters and channel aggregators; between channel aggregators and MSOs; between MSOs and LCOs and between LCOs and consumers. “Digital Cable System is new and is not tried and tested. Lots of teething problems, application hazards are poping up which needs to be addressed. Redressal of all such issues should be considered on practical ground and not on any task force or ministrial meeting. The first phase of digitization is practically incomplete. Supply of STB in the first phase is inadequate, the pressure of second phase will push the process into much more complication. Authority is not accepting the time for settling down for supply of STB and the technology,”said Mr Chowdhury.

 

Mr Singh concluded, “The early seeding of boxes and getting the message out to consumers that they need to get their boxes early is one key message. IBF’s campaign to build public awareness was extremely effective and we should continue with that campaign for phase II. The ministry’s effort to coordinate with all stakeholders was in excellent trend that should continue. If anything, I think MIB  is going to take even more proactive stance of monitoring the actual implementation of the roll out of boxes city by city. So I think a lot of the learning from phase 1 will apply to Phase 2 and it is very positive.”

 

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