CAS has been in force in Chennai since 2003 making the state the first metro to fall under the CAS regime.
Chaos of CAS
The wait-and-watch approach of people and uncertainty on the part of the viewers on the implementation of the CAS led to mounting of confusion and hence the rush in the market for the supply of STBs in the first week of January. Multi System Operators had to grapple with the last minute rush for STBs. Cable operators and MSOs were bombarded with customer calls demanding fast set up of STBs after the midnight hour on last day of 2006. There was confusion regarding the cut off date at the midnight of 31st Dec, the new year eve but all pay channels were encrypted on 30th Dec night itself as per the court orders. In some areas operators did continue with unencrypted feed of pay channels in analog form but had to switch it off after the intervention of Nodal officers.
Channel's/ Broadcaster's take on CAS
Entertainment channel, Zoom and the english news channel, Times Now were the first channels to turn from pay to free-to-air (FTA). Viewership of popular channels like Star, Sony, Zee came down by 36-40%, they being available in the CAS Zones only in encrypted form as pay channels after CAS came into force w.e.f 1st January 2007. This may also change the viewing habits of many people as they might show more interest in programmes on FTA channels rather than keep their loyalties towards the pay channels. There was a spurt in the viewership of channels like Sahara One, Total TV, Janmat etc because firstly they were FTA and secondly digital cable feed allowed all available channels equal visibility. Earlier only prime band channels could be viewed with better quality.
So being included among the pay channels may prove to be a threat to some channels' viewership and TRPs. Aaj Tak to retain its badge of being the favourite and most preferred news channel among all others also announced all of its four channels (Aaj Tak, Delhi Aaj Tak, Tez and Headlines Today) to go free-to-air. Knowing the fact that it owns the telecast rights for the domestic and BCCI cricket matches for the next four years, Nimbus, the parent company of Neo Sports and Neo Plus marked their price at a whopping Rs 58.50. Nevertheless TRAI's intervention made it come down to Rs. 37.25, the same as of ESPN, Star Sports as on 26th Dec 2003. In CAS Zone, however, channel was available only for Rs 5 each.
CAS's Acceptability… Will it be Possible?
Delhiites are the people most glued to their TV sets, Delhi being the home for maximum middle class families. So the CAS would be accepted more by the people here and in very less time. TRAI's regulation that STBs be made available on a rental basis rather than forcing customers to buy a STB, is an added bonus that will facilitate fast acceptability of the CAS.
The new system will give way to healthy competition and the DTH players offering more attractive pay packages to lure the viewers, further widening the choice of viewers, whether to go for CAS or DTH or IPTV in the future.
CAS Effect on Stakeholders
Multi System Operators (MSOs) are emerging as big players in the CAS Zones because of their greater investment capability and ability to negotiate good price for set-top boxes from the vendors for large quantities required. And with the implementation of CAS expected in the remaining parts of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata after 31st January, more and more people would be shifting to the new technology (either through Cable or DTH), thereby increasing the demand for STBs.
Pay channel broadcasters are facing the heat in the CAS Zones as their viewership is limited to the number of STBs installed. They are blaming the MSOs for not providing enough set-top boxes but the fact is that there is not much demand for them. More and more people are shifting their loyalties to free-to-air channels. In the long run, of course the number of pay TV viewers will increase as the programming improves further. Now is the real time for competition for them. With the STBs, a systemized approach to keep track of what the subscriber is watching will be found and thus the exact number of viewership figures can be attained.
Cable operators would also benefit in the manner that broadcasters who always accuse the local cable operators for understating the number of subscribers, thereby affecting their TRPs will stop doing it now. Haggling with the local cable operators over the price, poor service or abrupt disconnection would also be put to an end as the new CAS regime will give way to digital transmission that will put an end to the problems in the service quality to a great extent. Moreover the last mile operator is assured of Rs 77/- for the FTA package and 25% of the pay channel revenue.
With CAS, the consumers can easily budget their entertainment expenses and also view programmes as per their preference. CAS would bring in transparency and more subscription revenues.
CAS a digital mode of delivery of encrypted signal transmission would mark the beginning of the transition of the cable TV industry from a fragmented, chaotic and arbitrarily priced service to a digital, transparent and more organized market in the times to come.