Years back, television delivery scenario was entirely different from what it is today. Cable TV entered in our country in the early nineties and also enjoyed monopoly for over a decade. But now its time for the emergence of various other TV delivery platforms to give competition to Cable TV.
After Direct-to-Home (DTH), it’s Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) that is striving hard to gain momentum in the market. IPTV can also be termed as triple play, lets consumer have access the internet, phone and television via just one wire. “Interactivity and Time Shift Television” are the two unique features of IPTV that allow viewers to watch TV any time at their convenience.
Telecom Bigwigs Eye At IPTV
IPTV market which is still in its nascent stage, already has many players eyeing for it. As soon as IPTV technology was introduced in the market, many firms prepared themselves to jump into it. And majority of these companies are the well established telecom bigwigs. Among them, MTNL ranks first as it launched its IPTV service early this year in Delhi and Mumbai even before the government could introduce any regulations for the new technology. Another public sector company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam (BSNL) has also rolled out its services in Pune, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore among other places. Apart from MTNL and BSNL, many other firms are betting big on IPTV. In a move to take advantage of the very lucrative and budding IPTV business, Reliance Communications (RCom) and Microsoft on 5th November, 2007 announced a strategic partnership in which RCom will invest $500 million as license fee for Microsoft’s Mediaroom software to power its IPTV services in India. RCom also announced that it will invest another $500 million on the infrastructure of the project’s first phase to be completed by March 2008. RCom that now holds the exclusive rights for the deployment of Mediaroom software in India, will roll out the project in 30 Indian cities in phases – Delhi and Mumbai being the initial deployment cities. RCom claims to deliver a new, connected and personalized television experience to the consumers. Anil Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Communications said that IPTV would also be taken to rural India and the company was talking to state governments to collaborate with them for this initiative. Bharti Airtel, the ET Company of the Year 2006-2007 that possesses a subscriber base of over 50 million is now looking to enter numerous new ventures as it plans to establish itself in emerging services including IPTV. Its trial on IPTV is going on in Gurgaon near Delhi and it plans to launch commercial service in the next year beginning. Buzz! is that, even the Telecom provider, Vodafone is planning to enter the IPTV fray.
With a view to provide a wider choice to the consumers, the Planning Commission is considering a tax relaxation on the hardware for IPTV in the 11th Five Year Plan. This move of the Government is aimed at achieving complete coverage of Digital TV by 2012.
On 28th November TRAI also released its draft recommendations on “Pr-ovision of IPTV Services” thus giving a new pace to the fast development in telecom technologies.
The Authority has deliberated at length on all the relevant issues regarding provision of IPTV services considering technology neutral approach. After receiving comments of stakeholders on their consultation paper in September, 2007 and studying the best International practices these draft recommendations have been framed. The highlights of these draft recommendations are given below:
• Telecom service providers (UASL and CMTS) having license to provide triple play services and ISPs with net worth of more than Rs. 100 Crores and having permission from the licensor to provide IPTV can provide IPTV service under their licenses without requiring any further registration. Similarly cable TV operators registered under Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995 can provide IPTV service without requiring any further license.
• Any breach of the provisions of Act/ License/ Registration/ Permission by telecom service provider/ cable operator/Broadcasters shall be dealt with by designated agencies which are responsible for administering such Acts/ License/ Registration/ Permissions.
• The Telecom licensees while providing TV channels through IPTV shall transmit only such channels in exactly same form (unaltered) for which broadcasters have received up-linking/down-linking permission from Government of India (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). In such cases, the responsibility to ensure that content is in accordance with the existing laws, rules, regulations etc shall be that of the broadcaster and telecom licensee will not be held responsible.
• In case of contents other than TV Channels from broadcasters, the telecom licensee shall be responsible for observing program code and advertisement code and such program code and advertisement code shall be the same as provided in Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act 1995 and Rules there under.
• I & B Ministry and IT ministry are monitoring the contents at present. It would therefore be appropriate that respective ministries regulate the content provided using IPTV. Operational procedures like time to keep a copy of the contents shown on IPTV, monitoring requirements etc can be worked out by DOT based on the feedback from respective ministries. Any violation of prevailing Acts/ Rules/ guidelines relating to content by telecom service providers in provisioning of IPTV service shall be reported to DoT by respective ministries. The decision of the respective ministries regarding violation of the law/ direction/ guidelines in respect to content shall be final. DoT may perhaps seek the guidance of the respective ministries to ascertain the penalties for the breach to maintain uniformity and shall initiate suitable action for imposing penalties for violations in a time bound manner.
• Telecom service provider providing IPTV will show only those news channels which have been approved by I & B Ministry.
Down linking Policy:
• Up linking/ down linking guidelines should be amended to enable the broadcasters to provide signals to all distributors of TV channels such as cable operators, MSOs, DTH operators, HITS operators, IPTV service providers etc. Considering importance of the subject, these draft recommendations are being put on TRAI website inviting further comments from stakeholders. Thereafter, the Authority will issue the final recommendations to the Government on the subject.
Hurdles on the Way
Many of us visualize IPTV business as a very lucrative one but the hurdles in its way may slow down its growth in the nation. Poor broadband penetration, high priced set-top boxes (STBs) and last-mile (to the home) connectivity problems that are delaying the telecom industry's much-touted plan of rolling out IPTV services. The plans of various companies to enter IPTV business would bring in the much required competition quite early but the success of IPTV in market at this stage is questionable.
“A lack of awareness on the benefits of IPTV, such as its interactivity and edutainment (education plus entertainment) is the major reason for the lack of its popularity in the country. The current requirement is to educate broadband users, who are the potential customers, about the service,” according to MTNL Executive Director, J Gopal.
Another poser before industry is the high cost of IPTV STBs that are priced at Rs 8,000. In comparison to this, the STBs of Conditional Access System (CAS) and Direct-To-Home (DTH) services cost Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,000 respectively.
The next difficulty for the industry is the lack of proper infrastructure. According to Reliance Communications President (Home and Enterprise Business) Prakash Bajpai, IPTV's growth would depend on the last mile connectivity and companies would look at a faster rollout of these connections. According to Mohan Tambe, MD of Innomedia, a Reliance supported company which has pioneered a low cost high-tech( permits HDTV) set-top-box, cable operators are the best bet to spread IPTV in India since they are the masters of Last Mile.
Though, all the above shortcomings do not seem insurmountable but it is clear that the IPTV market would be fit only for the long term players who are capable of Upgrading their systems whenever needed and Developing ways and means to make the service more user-friendly and economical day by day.