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.
The first shock TRAI and the Ministry has received in the process is in the form of carriage fee demands by the MSOs averaging to ` 2.00 per subscriber per month as against TRAI chairman JS Sarma’s estimate of ` 50- ` 1 per subscriber per year. How wrong was he to have said that Digitalisation would end carriage fee woes for broadcasters?
It is definitely worth wondering when most of the MSOs who demand such large carriage fee belong to these two or three large pay TV groups, why are the pay TV broadcasters protesting against carriage fee. Small broadcasters, who actually suffer the carriage fee demon and are not members of either IBF or NBA, have not even spoken a single word against it. In fact they have not spoken any word against anything in the Digitalisation Process, as if they have no concerns.
People who are showing the most concerns on extension of deadlines are the people who should be least concerned, the DTH operators. They are already digital, not anywhere in the value chain but still are the most worried of any delay in digitalisation of Cable TV. News papers are full of their reactions. The fact is that in the early stage of digitalisation when Cable Networks face the teething problems, they expect maximum cable consumers to shift to DTH because of the unstable services. But that is not a fair competition and government should have protected the Cable TV networks against such unfair competition.
Seeding of STBs is also taking an ugly turn as pressure from the government to meet the deadlines is forcing MSOs to seed their direct points first, as they don’t have adequate number of STBs to give the franchisee LCOs for their subscribers. LCOs are getting a bad name for no fault of theirs.
Franchisee LCOs are facing the biggest challenge in convincing consumers to buy STBs without even knowing what they will pay for their choice content because no MSO has declared the packages as yet. LCOs are protesting against the government, regulator as well as the MSOs for treating them shabbily. Their main grievance is about low revenue share of 45% of basic tier, not been given adequate time to seed the market and their networks not being recognised as broadband infrastructure. They have the toughest job of preparing the last mile and the subscribers for futuristic services.
Talking of technologies, over the top and multiple platform distribution was the in thing at Broadcast Asia in Singapore, last month. I am sure with digitalisation in progress; many MSOs must be planning to provide these services to have an edge over DTH.
We are publishing an open letter to UPA Chairperson by an LCO on their plight this time. Please keep writing your comments regularly.