The Month of April will see the biggest democratic process go on as India goes for its Parliamentary elections. Every news channel is busy telecasting rallies of various political leaders, heated panel discussion on the possible outcome of elections and opinion polls. It is difficult to find a single channel that is unbiased. Every channel appears to have its own agenda according to its alliances with some political or industrial group.
Of late, many untoward incidents have started occurring in the industry due to neglect of regulator in taking action on the grievances of LCOs. Disputes between MSOs and LCOs over billing, submission of CAF forms and revenue share have increased. In one case firing was resorted to in a meeting of an MSO and LCOs and in another, some unidentified people has badly beaten up an MSO official. These things do not talk well of industry’s health. Such things happened in early nineties when the industry was evolving. We used to call it the Wild West of cable TV. Industry must find solution to such problems if it wants to progress.
The year 2014 has started with great hopes. There have been positive signals from all sides. The I&B Minister, Manish Tewari in his address in the CII's CEO roundtable said that the industry must focus on the consumers most in the Phase-3 and 4 of digitization.
Results of Assembly elections in the four states of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh announced last month have dismayed the hopes of Congress Party as it has lost in all the states. Many are attributing this debacle to the anger of the common man, who is fed up with the rising prices of day to day needs. Although media has not highlighted due to vested interests, even additional expense forced on the common man by the Congress lead UPA government mandating digitization of the Cable TV services is being considered as one of the factors. Aam Admi Party coming to power in Delhi proves the power of common man in a democratic setup.
Phase I&II of digitisation were hurriedly executed by the Ministry to keep up with its own set deadlines. However, the results have not been very encouraging. Subscriber choice forms are still not fed into the SMS systems of MSOs and itemised bills are not being provided. TRAI's ultimatum to MSOs for this process to be completed was 15 November which was extended to 29 November and on 29 November it has further been extended to 15 December. Broadcasters have been asked to switch off their channels where MSOs are not providing gross bills and MSOs have been asked to switch off signals to consumers who have not submitted their CAFs. Only 40% subscribers have submitted their forms in the Phase II cities making both the government and the regulator worried.
Last month was very hectic for the broadcast industry with number of events taking place in different parts of the country. First TRAI issued a consultation on renewal of DTH licenses as Dish TV license needed to be renewed after it completed 10 years in October. A disturbing news from the Ministry of Home Affairs has complicated the renewal of licenses and registration of DTH, MSO and TV channels by mandating that these companies must get a security clearance from the Ministry every three years.
It appears that TRAI has finally understood the problems of regulating this 100 million households Cable TV industry. For the first time it has issued a consultation that looks at removing the biggest hurdle in the process of digitization that is, anticompetitive practices of pay TV aggregators. Independent MSOs and LMOs are now very hopeful of surviving in the industry if TRAI implements its proposal. The last date for submission of written comments for this consultation has been postponed to 3rd September.
A tiff between broadcasters and advertisers kept the industry guessing the outcome everyday in the last month. In this tug of war TAM has been the rope pulled between a monthly rating system and a weekly rating system by the broadcasters and advertisers respectively.
Last month saw a great tragedy strike the Uttrakhand Hills where thousands died or went missing. Road communications have been badly hit and some of the villages have been completely washed out. We at Cable Quest express our deep sympathies with all who suffered and pray for peace to the departed souls.
I&B Ministry might be rejoicing over its success in achieving 87% of STB penetration in Phase-II of Mandatory Digitisation that ended on 31st March 2013, consumers and LCOs are still struggling to come to terms with what is happening on the ground. Many local cable operator associations have been protesting with cable blackouts and hunger strikes but all this is falling on deaf ears of the government. Their main grouse is that till now they were independent businessmen making a living out of last mile cable network but now Government has given the control of their business to MSOs including their revenues.
The second phase of digitalisation is also over. I must congratulate I&B Ministry officials who have devised a quick fix formula of making their digitalisation process always a success. The formula is - make a policy, give a deadline irrespective of the factors involved, go to big events and announce their plans confidently, even assure to complete implementation much before time, gag the press and other media warning them only to publish government releases and nothing else and then on the day before the deadline send a release declaring great success, even up to 150% in some cities and then lie low till the announcement of the next phase.
Second Phase of digitalization will end on 31 March 2013 but state of seeding of STBs is dismal. Most of the 38 cities of this Phase have hardly reached 30% of seeding. How much can be achieved in the next one month is anyone's guess.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is confident of meeting the 31st March 2013 deadline of digitization in 38 cities across the country. The second phase of digitization covers the one million plus cities across the country. The four metros – Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai were part of the first phase of digitization which was declared successful on 31 October 2012. I&B Secretary Uday Kumar Varma has already been announcing that second phase will be completed in time and is progressing very smoothly.
An eventful 2012 ends and a hopeful 2013 commences. The year 2012 started with the Phase-I of Digitisation and after seeding of about 6 million STBs in the four metros, Phase-II targets the next 38 cities in 2013. Whatever may be the manner of enforcing the law for mandatory digitisation and its immediate impact, there is no doubt that the long term effects of digitisation on the industry will usher in an era of continuous growth and happiness.
I&B Ministry reached the finish line of Phase I of digitalisation on 31 October 2012 with a great result that would put countries like the US and UK to shame where they could not finish the process in seven years. Ministry announced that its achievement in Mumbai was more than 100%, Delhi 97% and Kolkata 85%, Chennai is still waiting for the High Court verdict for its deadline extension and Arasu, the state owned Cable TV network is still waiting for its supply of STBs from China.
Finally the day of reckoning has come for I&B Ministry after the digital era dawns on 1st November and people endorse its claim of a grand success in digitalizing the cable TV industry in the four metros. This will also pave way for the second phase of the process where thirty eight cities with million plus population are included. There is not enough time left for this phase also as the deadline is 31st March 2012, just five months. What I did not like was the way Ministry officials pressurized the LCOs and the consumers through threatening advertisements joined by DTH operators who had nothing to do with digitalization of cable TV.
I still feel our whole exercise of digitalising the cable TV networks is out of focus. Right from drafting the amended law to making various regulations and then implementing them, Government is only concerned that all pay channels must reach viewers and be paid by the subscribers whether they like or not. Once the process started, stringent deadlines, tougher than anywhere in the world were announced. Now ministry's objective seems to be to show complete success in their exercise in the first phase, come what may. It reduced the base line of Cable TV households than what it had been considering since January this year to show higher percentage of STB penetration. Not only this, they have reduced the number of analog TV households by DTH homes in the metros so that number of yet to be digitized cable homes becomes low.
All estimates of TRAI and Ministry regarding digitalisation are going haywire. First the deadline for the Phase I was shifted from 30 June to 31 October 2012. Then the timeline for signing `RIO agreements between broadcasters and the MSOs was shifted to 21 August. Nothing much has happened till now when the deadline is just 60 days away. Only Mumbai has achieved 50% of STB penetration. Other metros are just around 30%. This way it will be difficult to achieve the deadline of October 31st too. Moreover, not signing the RIOs is hampering further progress and TRAI is threatening to cancel the licenses of the MSOs who have not been able to sign them till now.
While digitalisation of Cable TV in the metros has been deferred by the government ,worst hit are the DTH operators who wanted to cash in on failure of the fragmented cable industry in fully complying with the stringent government regulations, particularly in the initial stages of the process when even the subscribers are not well prepared . Although DTH already being a fully digital service is well entrenched since eight years, it has no reasons to feel insecure but the conditions under which it is operating makes it a struggling service, mainly because it has to compete with many small players running analog cable networks with very low ARPU.
By a reputed Registered MSO at Hyderabad
(Qualification and Experience is must, Accommodation will be provided for outsiders)
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