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.
As expected the Ministry has extended the first phase deadlines to 30 October 2012. It has given six months from 30th April 2012, the day the Cable TV Rules were notified as required by the DAS Amendment Act 2011. In fact, this was one of the demands of the independent MSOs who wanted to start their own business rather than become distributor of a large MSO. Given the opportunity and the time most of the large cable operators who have become independent MSOs in the big cities would like to go this way unless the government, in connivance with the broadcasters, make life difficult for them to enable their own digital headends.
As deadline for the first phase of digitalisation ie 30 June 2012 is coming closer, speculations are in the air that it may be deferred for a few months. Already there are two cases filed in the courts in Delhi and Mumbai respectively against the unrealistic deadlines and unviable revenue share.
The much awaited regulations for DAS areas scheduled to be issued by 31st March have finally come at the fag end of April. Only 60 days are left for the first phase to be over. How does the ministry expect things to roll out in this condition, is beyond my comprehension. Many cable operators who want to install their own headends and operate independently are unable to do so because of this uncertainty. They need time to get their license from I&B, get the content and install their Headends.
The first setback to I&B Ministry’s Cable TV Digitalisation plan was rejection of all its proposals to provide financial incentives to the industry through the new Budget 2012-13 by the Finance Minister. Instead, 2% increase in Service tax will make things more difficult for all operators. Overall, the Budget this year does not bring any cheer for the industry.
Finance Ministry rejecting the demands of I&B Ministry for providing financial sops to the broadcast industry, to facilitate fast and smooth implementation of digital addressability has upset the whole process. It is surprising why I&B Ministry hurried up for passing such an important legislation, that would impact 150 million TV households without judging the priorities of the government, demand of the people and economics of the process. Such a hurried step will never stand the test of the time and may go down the drain like CAS in 2003. I am afraid; so much effort made for taking such a progressive step may not go waste and put the industry back to where it was. I sincerely hope, it does not happen this time.
There is a hectic activity going on in the industry in preparation for implementing digitalisation. TRAI had put up a consultation paper for comments from the industry and surprisingly there are 83 entries in the comment list, never happened before. This is the first time in the history of Cable TV that so many people have responded to the consultation. Another surprise is that the respondents include many last mile cable operators who hardly raised their voice ever.
Year 2012 has come with many hopes for the Industry. Digitalisation Bill getting through the Parliament has been the biggest achievement in 2011. Frankly, there is a lot of fuss but no direction for the industry to move on to. Many rules and regulations for implementing Digitalisation are being framed by the regulator TRAI. Stake holders have demanded clarification on tariff, revenue share, basic packages etc. from TRAI. Ministry is also planning a massive public awareness campaign.
Chairperson of Press Council of India, Markandey Katju set off a nationwide debate on the regulation of electronic media, in particular the television media stating that it should be under jurisdiction of the Press Council. The debate has kept all news channels busy protesting against his views through various talk shows. While all the media persons were against Katju, public views published in the news papers were completely in sync with him. However, Ministry is seriously considering his views to bring the television channels under the jurisdiction of the Press Council.
There is a sudden change in the mood of the Industry. Signing of the Ordinance on Digitalization of Cable TV by the President on 25th October has put the industry on a fast track. This time the government wishes to introduce total digitalization which will include all FTA channels too. First phase of the process for all Metro cities is expected to be completed within six months of publication of Notification and rest of India will be digitized by December 2014. This is definitely a very ambitious target but if we think in an optimistic way, a good beginning has been made. Most of the advanced countries and even many developing countries have already finished their digitalization. The biggest advantage of the move is that it will help to boost up the convergence of telecom and broadcasting, increasing the broadband penetration, so much needed for a faster economic growth.
Finally, we may see the D-Day of digitalization soon, may be within a month. This fact emerged from the news that trickled down from Shastri Bhavan after two meetings of the Task Force on implementing Digitalisation with Addressability in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, saying that the government will bring an ordinance on the subject to let the ball rolling. The news itself has lifted up the stocks of some large MSO companies.
It was unimaginable to see Rupert Murdoch, world's greatest media Mogul, seated in front of the British Parliamentary committee along with his son James Murdoch, trying to answer the serious criminal allegations of phone hacking, including those of some murder victims, victims of crimes, royal family members and politicians. One could see his hesitation in answering some of the questions, accepting his inability to know everything that was happening in his media empire and finally apologizing to all when the proceedings were being broadcast to millions of TV viewers all across the world.
Last Month I had an opportunity to visit Taiwan, a tiny island country and was amazed to see such a small country supplying best of the technology products to the whole world. Their share of the world market in PCs, Smartphones, LCDs etc is so impressive that one wonders how could a country with just 23 million population achieve so much. It is the sheer determination to keep themselves ahead of the world that keeps them working hard.Their success in the world of electronics is purely because of their strong R&D infrastructure which has lead them to have several patents in technology that rules the modern world.
I & B Ministry has made its strategic plan for the next five years which is placed on Ministry's Website. In the SWOT analysis carried out by the Ministry there are more 'Weaknesses' than 'Strengths'. Also, The solutions given or the actions to be implemented are more of a paper work which gets repeated every five years rather than some solid points on which action can be taken. Most of the planning pertains to the Public Broadcasters who, in any case spend more and output less. We are yet to see their projects of DTT & Mobile TV started many years ago, taking off for the masses. Their HD project started during CW Games although operational, is hardly visible because of dearth of FTA HD STBs and high cost of HDTVs. I Don't think any content is being produced in HD by Doordarshan.
Time to Stop the Blame Game The month of March kept us extremely busy with four major events namely, CASBAA Satellite Forum, Delhi, FICCI Frames in Mumbai, Convergence India in New Delhi and CCBN (China); the later three ran concurrently on the same dates. I feel now the markets are global and the organizers should coordinate the dates in such a way that such clashes don’t occur. All the events are very important for the industry and everyone should get a chance to attend.
Digitalisation has become the main focus of the government now. TRAI has reacted to I&B Ministry’s comments on its earlier recommendations of the sunset dates and still feels that digitalization in the country can be implemented by December 2013. It is not so much setting the dates that will make us achieve the target, it is making supporting regulations that will encourage digitalization.
Amidst investigations of various scams, the UPA government is busy drafting a populist budget that may ease their situation a little. There is no end to inflation which, in-spite of our growing economy is adversely affecting our daily lives. Billions of dollars stashed away in various Tax heavens by Indian residents and Supreme Court’s pressure on the government to do something about that is another worry the government is facing. 2G scam has already worried the government to great extent. Although, expected GDP growth figures are encouraging, how much budget allocation the broadcast industry will get from the government under these circumstances can be easily guessed?
We have reached the end of 2010, full of enthusiasm to enter the digital age. Although the year gone by made us witness many disappointing events, mainly of the corrupt practices in all segments of society, be it telecom, broadcasting, sports, politics or real estate. There were many positive happenings like TRAI's recommendations for the National Broadband Plan, beginning of High Definition Broadcast and 3G services, MSOs coming in lime light with successful IPOs and also the very first independent Cable Operator launching his IPO. To top it all we have the Consultation Paper from TRAI for interconnect Regulations in Non-Addressable Cable TV sector to resolve the issue of assumed connectivity.
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