Thursday, 21 May 2009


Spate of fights and killings among the cable operators in the last few months indicate a dark chapter opening once again
in the history of cable television. Hope the Government does something before it goes out of control.

I knew, this was coming. I mean the cable wars. Yes, the competition is hotting up with the coming of new MSOs. Apart from Incable, Hathway and Siti Cable, the oldies of the industry, now we have DEN and DIGI too. Some of these MSO’s get heavy funding from foreign investors and must show results to sustain. How do they do that with the disorganised last mile sector?
In most of the cities, particularly the 55 TRP cities, the old MSOs have been consolidating their position for the last 10-15 years. One has to break into their camp to make a dent. So the idea is to get hold of a strong cable operator or a local strong man to join you and then ask him to hammer others nearby. After that it is a free for all bout, like it happens in the WWF multiple player show where many wrestlers fight for supremacy in a freestyle battle.
On 4 April, a group of cable operators allegedly fired multiple rounds on their opponents in Mayur Vihar area of the Capital. On 8 th April, a 30 year old cable operator was allegedly shot at in Rohini, New Delhi by his rival cable operator. In Chennai last month, there were mass cable cuttings of one MSO by another allegedly using small cable operators who are the franchisees and number of FIRs were registered. In Ahmedabad too, six armed goons had entered a cable operator’s control room and beat up the employees at gun point. All this reminds me of the wild west of the cable industry of the early nineties.
There are two battle grounds, namely National and Regional. In the national field we have Hinduja’s Incable, Raheja’s Hathway, WWIL’s Siti Cable and the new entrants Viacom 18’s DEN and JSK’s DIGI, all experts in their field. Infact, Siti Cable which was lying almost dormant for some years and had plans to withdraw from many cities, have recouped their energies and resumed operations in a big way with the launch of WWIL’s HITS platform recently. This gives them the power to launch their digital operations anywhere in the country, anytime with minimum of investments.
The new players are smart; they have the backing of the large media groups too and they have already pulled out best of the industry talent to manage their operations. The global slowdown has effected them a little, otherwise, their rate of penetration would have been much faster. They have better and cheaper technologies available now to help them. All of them are preparing to offer triple-play services for competing with the Telcos.
Regional markets have their own dominant players who keep fighting relentlessly any one who trespassed their territories. Sun Group’s Sumangali Cable in Tamilnadu, ORTEL in Orissa, Rajasthan Patrika in Rajasthan and Dainik Bhaskar in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are a few examples. Other prominent but smaller players are Manthan and Cablecomm in Kolkata, Atria and Amogh in Bengaluru, Moon Cable in Agra etc. Then there are the independent cable operators who commenced operations in the early 90s and are still going strong on their own strength in their areas like Vikki Choudhury, Sunil Sassan in Delhi, Seven Star in Mumbai and ICC in Pune.
Small Cable operators who operate the last mile for these MSOs are the soldiers of their captains and suffer maximum casualties in this battle for supremacy. Government has done sweet nothing to organise this side of the industry. I fail to understand why this reluctance unless some body some where benefits from all this.
I remember the first time it started in 1993 when the Hindujas entered the fray in Mumbai in 1993. In Delhi we had the Hindustan Times group with Falcon cable of USA in the same year. Everyday we heard of the gun and sword battles involving last mile operators.
I thought things had improved. I expected new technologies to usher in a softer approach to market domination, but it is sad that it did not happen. May be, because the regulations are not in place in spite of the fact that TRAI has sent several recommendations to the government since 2004. I fail to understand why government is sleeping over it. Particularly when these competing technologies of DTH and IPTV are fast penetrating into the television distribution market of the cable operators. I understand this had to happen, but is it wise to neglect 85 million household connectivity of the cable? Operators see it as a deliberate attempt to kill the industry for the benefit of big players who are companies owning broadcast channels and want to reach the subscribers directly using their own DTH, MSO and IPTV networks to make more profits, bypassing cable operators. It is impossible to replace them, so we should bring them to a higher level to put them on a level playing field.
I am glad that these MSOs are thinking of using IPTV to penetrate faster and longer. This way, they will stop the onslaught of the Telcos who are eying the television markets like vultures. This will also help the MSOs reach the consumers with triple play services offering Video, VOIP and Internet. They can use the last mile of the cable operators to reach the subscribers rather than build new networks which will definitely take a longer time and they may lose the race with the Telcos. The future is coming but we must not have another blood-shed. Some one somewhere, please do something.


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