Friday, 1 February 2013

Insecurity increases amongst LCOs

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting is confident of meeting the 31st March 2013 deadline of digitization in 38 cities across the country. The second phase of digitization covers the one million plus cities across the country. The four metros – Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai were part of the first phase of digitization which was declared successful on 31 October 2012. I&B Secretary Uday Kumar Varma has already been announcing that second phase will be completed in time and is progressing very smoothly.
However, it is sad to say that in reality Ministry has totally forgotten about what is happening in the first phase post digitalisation after 01 November 2012. A recent protest by LCOs in the BES Expo inaugural ceremony on 29 January and later in front of I&B Ministry Office next day bared open the hollow achievements of the government. Only large companies having vertical monopolies in the market have gained in Digitisation so far. Bigger MSOs who do not have any support from the big broadcasters as well as independent MSOs are losing business every day because either some ‘Pay’ broadcaster has not yet signed content agreement with them or they have not been given the license by the Ministry so far. There is not even a single independent MSO who has been given the license in 38 cities of the Second Phase. Due to delay in getting license and content agreement with broadcasters these MSOs are unable to import STBs in spite of investing crores on the digital headend infrastructure.
It is becoming evident that Ministry’s intention in mandating digitisation had no national interest and only vested interests were involved in the whole process. All that urgency in completing the Phase-I and now Phase-II is only to ensure that some one or two vertical monopoly corporate get the maximum benefit in controlling the Television market in these major cities that decide the TAM ratings and UPA-ii gets to show that it has done a great achievement before the General Elections in 2014. Also, constitution of a Task Force for the Second Phase is another example of Ministry’s intention of helping the big companies. This time it has removed the members from MSO Alliance and COFI and inducted members who are connected in some way with some big groups who are being favoured so that no one raises any objection against the decisions of the Task Force.
TRAI has issued a consultation paper on some issues of interconnection to review the regulations in view of TDSAT verdict on them in a case filed by MSOs and LCOs. There is another consultation coming up on the reference of I&B Ministry to regulate the local video channels.
Two major events took place in the last month, first Convergence India 2013 and second, BES Expo 2013. Both the events highlighted the emergence of multiplatform digital distribution methods and mobility.
Although operators visited from all over India, insecurity of their business was writ large on their faces and they were reluctant to invest till the situation was clear.
—— Lt. Col. (Retd.) K K Sharma


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