In 2003 when CAS was to be implemented I predicted not more than 25% subscribers would go for the set-top-boxes in the first three months. Also 25% would not opt for pay channels at all. That has come true now in the CAS zones. True viewership of the channels is coming to surface. Their allegations of underdeclaration by cable operators are turning false. Now everyone knows that they were overestimating their viewerships. Even the advertisers and the ad-agencies have understood this fact and are demanding for the ad rates to be brought down.
TRAI on the other hand wants India to go digital riding on the CAS success. They are contemplating that if CAS is made voluntary, it will speed up the digital cable penetration all over the country. However, I feel they should continue with the next phase of mandatory implementation of CAS in the three metros to let the system settle down fast. It will help settling the channel price wars and TRP battles. It will also help making necessary changes in the draft Broadcasting Bill which is likely to be introduced in the Parliament in the Monsoon Session.
Talking about the price war, MSOs have gone to the court demanding their share from the FTA booty of Rs.77/- presently reserved only for the last mile cable operators. I feel it is too early to demand this because Rs.77/- itself is very low compared to Rs.180/- that the last mile cable operators demanded in 2003 after considering all their expenses. All stakeholders must understand that when TRAI started with the CAS implementation and fixed a low rate of Rs.5/- per channels and accepted Rs.77/- for the FTA package of 33 channels, their main focus was to provide the subscribers a price package similar to the one currently in vogue so that there is no resistance and CAS gets implemented soon to bring transparency and order in this long beleaguered industry. It is a known fact that at these prices everyone including the broadcasters, the MSOs and the LCOs are losing something. But keeping the long term growth of the industry we must let the system stabilise based on the market forces.
Last month saw many big events in the industry. There was nothing very exciting to be seen in all these shows except future hopes on IPTV, Mobile TV and WiMax. It is not before another five years that we will see the impact of these technologies on the existing technologies in India.
In spite of all the problems faced by the industry, there is a silver lining on the clouds. New channels are being launched unabated in the hope of a digital revolution. Foreign equity is pouring industry unabated. I sincerely wish these hopes remain for ever.
Lt. Col. (Retd) K K Sharama