Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Budget without Cheers

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. 
It is also very strange that knowing fully well that many essentials like the tariff, interconnect regulations, equipment standards, infrastructure issue, content availability to digital networks, licensing and registration are not in place, Ministry officials are literally bullying the Cable Operators to digitalise or perish. During its first open house discussion with the industry organized by FICCI, Rajiv Takru, the Additional Secretary, I&B Ministry reiterated that even if no rules and regulations were in place, operators must start seeding STBs in consumer homes in the metros. Using an almost threatening language, he said that no additional time will be given beyond 30 June 2012 for the Phase-I and analog transmissions will be completely stopped after that. God knows from where does he get this confidence to be so certain that things can be done this way. 

Enforcing a technology in a private industry was never heard earlier, anywhere in the world. What forces are working behind this game may be known only after a while. But from the ongoing things, the only companies who appear to be benefiting are Rupert Murdoch lead Star Group and Subhash Chandra lead Zee Group who have created large vertical monopolies in DTH, MSO, TV Channels, Distribution Companies, Online media and print media. Even an increase in FDI to 74% will mostly help these companies as they have their own investment companies abroad. Others will have difficulty in convincing the investors that ‘all is Well’ here. 
Very few people in the Industry know that one more amendment, the Second Amendment to Cable TV Act is also pending and at present with the Standing Committee of the Parliament for Communication and IT. This restricts the transmission of only registered TV channels on the Cable TV Networks. I can’t understand the necessity of this when Guidelines are already existing. 
There is another consultation paper floated by TRAI last month to regulate advertising on TV channels. This is a good beginning as consumers were literally fed up with disturbing ads on the screen in many different formats. Broadcasters of course, are up in arms against the move as it has been suggested that all pay channels should not carry ads for more than 6 minutes in an hour, half of what has been suggested for FTA channels. 
The last month saw many industry events, one after the other including, FICCI Frames, IDNS, Convergence India, CCBN(China), NT Awards and CASBAA Summit. TRAI also held an open house discussion on comments given by various stakeholders on its consultation paper on digitalization. 
The month kept everyone extremely busy.

—— Lt. Col. (Retd.) K K Sharma



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