TRAI sub-group is working on developing an alternative model for voluntary CAS so as to speed up the digitalization of cable television in India. A roundtable conference with all the stakeholders on 23rd Feb., voices the seriousness on the part of the TRAI in taking CAS to all over India. Discussions were made with broadcasters, cable operators, equipment manufacturers industry and technology experts to explore ways of bringing down the prices of set-top boxes through meetings with experts and representatives of consumer groups and from the cable industry as well. In respect to voluntary CAS, aspirations of stakeholders on issues like tax concessions for investment, consumer affordability and choice and nature of market were taken into account. Issues such as domestic manufacturing of STBs, revenue sharing among the MSOs and the local cable operators and changes in the regulatory regime were put forward. A deadline for voluntary roll-out of CAS across India was also discussed during the meet and the regulator has asked all stakeholders to submit their replies on the above mentioned issues by 14th March.
STBs picture in the four metros according to TRAI
There's a slow but steady upsurge in demand in Mumbai as TV viewers opt for CAS in the notified area spanning Colaba to Mahim. STBs installed so far amount to 2,30,000 of the estimated 5.4 lakh TV sets in the area, as per confirmed TRAI reports. There are four Multi System Operators (MSOs) - JPR Network Pvt Ltd., Siti Cable, Hathway Pvt Ltd and Incable Network, operating in the notified area.
South Delhi area spanning Maharani Bagh to Vasant Kunj constitutes the CAS notified areas in the capital. Major providers are Wire & Wireless (Siti Cable), Hathway and Incable. As per latest TRAI estimates, about 2 lakh set-top boxes were installed in South Delhi against 6.5 lakh cable TV households.
A total of 55,000 set-top boxes have been sold in Kolkata. In Kolkata CAS has been implemented in nine areas- Behala, Alipur, New Alipur, Chetla, Kidderpore, Garden reach, Maheshtala, Budge Budge and Keorapukur.
CAS initially being launched in parts of the four metros- Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai together account for nearly 14% of an estimated 70 million cable homes. India is the world's third biggest cable TV market, next only to China and US.
Unlike other metros, there was little opposition to CAS when it was introduced in Chennai way back in Sep.’03 and was implemented more easily. CAS's idea wasn't much appreciated in the rest of the country (people even protested against it and filed cases against its execution) but the people of Chennai welcomed it.
The reason was that most of the Tamil channels were free-to-air and this led to the willingness to opt for CAS. In Chennai, say industry estimates that out of the estimated 16 lakh cable homes in the city, only 65,000 or less have opted for CAS.
The Other Side of the CAS Story
At the end of two months after the implementation of CAS in the notified areas of the three metros, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata the access of set-top-boxes is still reported to be very poor. According to TAM-AC Neilson estimation study on the penetration and adoptability of CAS, of the 16.33 lakh homes covered under the CAS footprint, only 2.77 lakh homes have taken up a set top box or a direct to home connection. The penetration levels of CAS, according to the TAM study are as low as 25% in Mumbai, 14% in Delhi and 10% in Kolkata. TAM reports also state the unavailability of STBs seems to be most severe in Mumbai with close to 20% homes awaiting installation. Households in Delhi and Kolkata still waiting to be CAS installed stood at 6% and 11% respectively. This shows not much demand is there for the set-top boxes while the picture presented by the TRAI is exactly the opposite. According to TRAI officials there is not much waiting period for installing a STB. There are no complaints coming now and the situation is quite normal. Low penetration in February attributed to term end examinations of children. Demand is likely to shoot up again after the exams in summer holidays. This is quite a paradox.
Indian manufacturing of STBs
The I&B Ministry is also preparing for a meeting with all the stakeholders to explore ways of bringing down the prices of set top boxes through cutting the import duties and by encouraging indigenous production of STBs.
Bharat Electronics and TVS are hopeful of producing STBs for less than Rs 1000. STBs imported at Rs 2800-3300. Introduction of CAS will make TV viewing a user-friendly experience in the long run. The need for price control is considered important by the government as it is most essential in order to ensure affordability and choice to the consumer.
Watch your choice of channels
For years, TV sets had been inundated with a clutter of channels that hold no relevance to a specific viewer. Set-top box comes as blessing for all those whose televisions were full of regional channels being broadcast in different languages thereby creating space for other channels of their choice. Otherwise what use is a Marathi channel to a Tamilian viewer? Now viewers won't have to surf through a plethora of channels before finding a channel of their choice. Thank TRAI for CAS!! Owning a set-top box is like buying an I-Pod that can have some specific songs of one's choice rather than listening to the FM.
CAS a new horizon for TV industry
TV media will emerge as the biggest sector in the media entertainment business. There is going to be a shift in the TV industry's revenue model. From ad revenue it will lead to subscription based, as the stakeholders can now earn from the subscription from the viewers for different span and free-to-air channels. Although the broadcasters are predicting the possibility of facing a 30% downfall in subscription revenues in CAS areas, but it is very certain that they will earn with the undeclared number of viewers finally be declared officially by the operators. The competition among broadcasters is sure to see an upsurge. TV channels are campaigning hard coming onto roads, theatres, streets every where to ensure that the viewer is lured and include their channels in their CAS bouquet. The CAS model will soon be followed in the other parts of the country with the voluntary implementation of CAS on the cards.
TRAI is eager to review the revenue-sharing formula between the local cable operators and the multi-system cable operators. The point of including carriage fee paid by the broadcasters to the MSOs in the shared revenue is also under consideration. Cable operators have in this regard demanded a revision in the pricing of free-to-air channel bouquet from the existing Rs100 (Rs 77 plus taxes) to Rs 135-150, in their submissions to the TRAI for the second phase of CAS. Cable operators also expect TRAI to include carriage fees in the revenue sharing agreement between the multi system operators and the local cable operators.
Cable Operators' Federation of India (COFI) thinks it's too premature to review the revenue share formula and have asked the regulator to defer the issue till the time CAS is fully made operational in all the four metros.
Digitalisation of Indian Television
The TRAI sub-group meet on 23rd Feb. also saw the plan of digitalisation of cable television services pacing ahead. A deadline will be soon fixed by the government for complete digitalisation of television services in India and within that timeframe the cable operators will have to switch to a digital format from the earlier analog. They will need to give a complete overhaul to their existing infrastructure. At present only DTH and CAS platforms use digital infrastructure. Several proposals were talked aboutfor implementing technologies that allow cable operators to facilitate digital infrastructure without a set-top box.
The sub-group also looked at issues like the need for change in approach and manner to promote digitalisation, whether the promotion of digitalisation is to be seen as independent of CAS or should CAS be a part and parcel of digitalisation process. Certain other related areas such as policy framework for HITS as a platform for digital delivery, problems of availability of transponders for DTH operators and C-Band operators, problems of carriage of channels in DTH platform were also put forward.
A need was felt for rationalisation of duties, taxes and license fees to promote digitalisation. Members of the sub-group pointed out that digitalisation has a much better chance of making fast progress with CAS rather than without it. It was noted that a huge number of Multi System Operators in cities other than the CAS notified areas are going ahead with digitalisation without CAS firstly to compete with the digital DTH platforms and secondly to be prepared for CAS implementation as and when mandated in the future. A deadline of 2010 might be set for the making Indian cable television industry work on a digitally operated and executed set-up.