The whole world is talking about the new media these days. India is not very far behind. Both IPTV and Mobile TV have brought us on the world map and India's growth statistics have started appearing in the International surveys. Even at the recently concluded Broadcast Asia and CommunicaAsia 2007at Singapore, most talked about and demonstrated technologies were of IPTV and Mobile TV. Digital markets for digital communications have become passe. It is digital entertainment occupying the front rows now.
CAS has hardly entered the Indian Cable TV and DTH industry and we are already talking about piracy and Hacking. There is no doubt; the subject is of great importance to everyone including the stakeholders as well as the governments. An important fact is that inspite of advancements in technology, security breaches, hacking of the CAS codes and piracy have been the biggest concerns even in the most advanced markets. Hackers are always ahead of technology.
Like in our day to day life, in the industry too, we are depending more and more on the judiciary to regulate the industry. Although, regulations when made have always considered the stake holders to be honest and law abiding citizens, in reality competition, greed, politics and vested interests lead us to do all wrong things to make pr ofits in the shortest of time. In doing so, we give no consideration to others and are willing to either circumvent or flout the laws . The result is ever increasing court cases.
All the noise about CAS has died down now. There are no complaints from the subscribers. Infact complaints have increased from the DTH subscribers where the signals get switched off without notice and channels go missing. World cup fever is also down. So there is all calm on the broadcasting front.
Broadcasting Industry had a number of hopes from the Budget 2007 but it appears the Finance Minister had many more larger problems in his hand to be dealt with rather than the Industry. Nothing much has been done to improve the existing situation. On the personal front, not much damage has been done that could dampen the mood. Major resentment is for the indigenous manufacturers where the custom duty sops given in 2004 to ease implementation of CAS has been withdrawn this year. This means local manufactured products will be costlier. I feel this aspect could have been considered by the FM keeping in mind the larger interest of 114 million TV owners whom the government wants to push towards digitalisation by 2015.
CAS is finally in and the government is already thinking of implementing it all over the metros soon and by the year end, it may announce CAS implementation in all major cities. I feel as far as government is concerned, it is thrilled to see the amount of revenue it is going to earn from taxes from such a large number of subscribers. Even the state governments have realized how much they were losing from the real subscriber count not being exposed in the non-CAS areas. In Delhi alone, where only 87000 households were paying the entertainment tax from South Delhi earlier, now the figures have already gone more than double of this, about 1.75 lakh set-top boxes have been installed.
After a long wait of four years, CAS has officially been rolled out in the remaining three Metros of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. It was legislated in 2003 and implemented in Chennai in 2004. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as well as TRAI, the Regulator are dead serious this time in its implementation. Infact, some independent Cable Operators tried to thwart the CAS implementation and went to the court but were disappointed not to get any relief and both the Ministry and TRAI have been regularly updating and preparing the public for CAS through newspaper advertisements.
We are in the last phase of implementation of CAS. It is the regular players in the CAS notified areas, generally the big MSOs who are emaging as the big players. Surprisingly, the much enthusiastic independent operators are not showing much interest now. I think it is something to do with the heavy investments in Digital Headends and set-top-boxes. Big MSOs, because of their requirement of large quantities are getting a good price from the STB vendors but in smaller networks, it may not be so much feasible unless the vendors themselves introduce financing schemes. This may not happen as almost all the vendors are from other countries and they are still not very confident about the market and the Indian Politics. Ideal solution for the small independent players was to join hands with each other and consolidate their networks using fiberoptic cables leased from the telcos but because of their personal differences, this may not happen. Ultimately they will end up taking feeds from big MSOs. TRAI is closely monitoring the process and trying its best to ensure a smooth implementation. TRAI office in Delhi has been sealed following a High Court order to the Delhi Government not to allow any commercial use of residential properties. I am sure this will disturb their normal functioning for a shortwhile. Many channels like S1 have also faced the sealing drive.
There is all quiet on the Broadcast Bill front. After many heated discussions over various issues in the corridors of FICCI, ASSOCHAM, CII, various universities, political organizations people have become tired and now it is the turn of the I&B Ministry to move around and get the things cleared. Although, I personally feel nothing is going to happen and all the recommendations will land up in the cold storage of Shastri Bhavan.
Like the month of June, July also kept us busy in hectic activities in the Industry. First of all, it was the open house discussions of TRAI on numerous consultation papers issued in June, then there were the two major Court Cases, one between the MSOs and the Ministry of I&B that decided the implementation of CAS with immediate effect and the second between Dish-TV and Star TV where TDSAT gave a landmark ruling of sharing of content between the two DTH platforms, cost of the content package to be 50% of the cost on cable and the third major happening was the release of Draft Broadcast Bill that created a commotion amongst the Broadcasters with its proposals of cross-media restrictions, mandatory time slot for social programming, public service advertising and mandatory percentage of content sourced from India by all foreign channels and restriction on market share of broadcasters as well as MSOs.
It’s the time to speculate. TRAI, The regulator is in a mood to regulate and we all wait for what is there in store for each one of us. The regulation they are touching upon, once finalized may change the whole media scene. Consultation papers were issued last month on subjects like “Whether IP TV should be permitted on cable networks”, “MDU to be part of DTH”, “Interconnect Issues”, “Proposed Interconnect Agreement between Broadcaster, MSOs and Franchisees”, “Quality of Services Norms in CAS”, etc. I am sure the stakeholders must be fed up with replying to all these consultation papers but they are all so important that I feel, TRAI should have thought of releasing them with more spacing as it is impossible to do justice to these regulations in a short period of few days. Number of stakeholders I talked to, didn’t even know if there were attempts to regulate them.
While going through the news about the drastic fall of BSE Index in the third week of May 2006, I came across a quote by the CEO of a leading domestic private sector financial firm, who said “We are so enamoured by foreigners in this country that no one has still figured out the impact this circular will have on domestic investors”. This is so much right when we talk about the broadcast industry too. We are always ready to spread a red carpet for the foreign broadcasters at the cost of own industry, be it the Indian broadcasters or the cable operators. It is the foreign broadcasters who always wanted to delay CAS as long as possible and they should be happy that the government has asked for a eight months delay from the High Court. However Court has has not accepted the same and wants the implementation completed in 2006 itself which is a positive sign. The ministry has been asked to submit a plan by 05 July 2006.
After the Delhi High Court order dated March 10, 2006 to implement CAS within four weeks, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is running helter skelter, unable to decide whether to go to the Supreme Court against the order or implement CAS. Going to the Supreme Court does not seem a viable move as the High Court has very strongly condemned the government for being a spoil sport in implementing CAS on some pretext or the other and also for ignoring the earlier orders dated December 04 and December 26, 2003 in cases related to implementation of CAS or its withdrawal altogether. The Government was also rapped for ignoring the orders of two learned Judges of the Madras High Court who refused to defer the CAS implementation. The next obvious action is to implement CAS.
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