Although the Multi System Operators (MSOs) in the city have implemented digitalisation in totality but the most important part of the TRAI order, i.e. collection of subscriber's data and choice of channels from every household, remains hanging in balance. With the deadline of September 20th approaching, it is a tricky situation, as the data collection is just 30-40 per cent in Bangalore.
With analog mode
transmission coming to a total stop and all cable TV households entering an era of digitisation, lakhs of television viewers are getting to see as many as 300-550 free and pay channels without shelling any extra charges.
It is reported that some metros like Mumbai and Delhi are even receiving banned and censored channels to watch on their cable network which may create an unpleasant situation in the coming days.
The very purpose of TRAI's Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems (DAS), which is now in its second phase of implementation in 38 cities of the country, has been defeated what with the regulating authorities being the respective state governments, say television industry sources and add that they are helpless with their pay channels being broadcast free in many states. Says R Narasimha Swamy of Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd. (BECIL), "It is a huge achievement indeed as far as digitisation of cable TV distribution is concerned. However, as far as 'addressability' is concerned, there are lots of issues for total implementation of Cable TV Act for both total digitisation and addressability."
The most important aspect of digitisation was collection of consumer application forms (CAF) from each of the DAS subscribers.
These forms provide an opportunity to a subscriber to indicate their choice of channels either on a-la-carte basis or packages offered by the MSOs. According to industry sources, the progress on this very important aspect of DAS is yet to be addressed properly and completed. Only a few MSOs have completed this task and major national MSOs like Hathway, Sity Cable, DEN, In Cable, etc. are yet to complete this task.
"Unless CAF forms are collected and the concerned MSOs implement the choice of each and every subscriber in their head end using technology called 'conditional access', the essence of Cable TV Act (2012) will be entirely lost.
The latest amendments made by the UPA government was not only to digitise the distribution but also to make it 'addressable'. The addressability feature is ensured only when the subscriber is allowed to see the TV channels for which he or she has subscribed," opines Narasimha Swamy.
Presently, in Bangalore, it is 'free for all to watch' scenario as out of the eight active MSOs only a few of them have collected CAF from its subscribers.
Venkatesh Bhat of ACT says, "With installation of set top boxes (STBs) itself, we motivated our LCOs to collect the forms, so our coverage is 70 per cent. In fact, we started early and hope to cover the rest before the deadline."
According to Bhat, their area includes Malleswaram, R T Nagar, Banaswadi, etc. where the company has been able to successfully cover as they understood the urgency and further received all cooperation from their 100 LCOs and the viewers.
"We have been in Bangalore for quite a long time and our experience has helped us in insisting on CAF. Further, we already have different packages where our customers have opted and selected them and we are hoping to announce more options so as to benefit the viewers. With the new database, we now have a clear idea of the number of subscribers even if they have two STBs in a household. However, I feel that Bangalore is in a better position compared to other cities like Kolkata where even installation was a big issue," says Bhat.
One of the oldest companies in Bangalore, Sity Cable, whose coverage area is 5-8 per cent with one lakh households, has been able to cover only 40 per cent area.
They say that it is very difficult to meet the deadline by September 20.
Speaking to City Express, Maria Ireland says, "We won't be able to meet the deadline as neither the LCOs nor the consumers are serious about collecting or giving the data. We have not been abe to convince them as the viewers are not supportive enough while there is a shortage of manpower to collect the data from each household. In fact, our LCOs question us and say: why are you pressurising and penalising us when other MSOs are not doing? On an average, each household just pays between `110-200 and we are losing `100 per household with its non-implementation. Out of 300 channels that we are providing, 50 per cent are pay channels and we have to make advance payment to the broadcasters. If the subscription amount in the coming months is not rationalised and made more realistic, we may fold up like other MSOs did recently."
On the other hand, a new player, Canara Cable, which came into existence this February, claims that 70 per cent CAF has been collected in their coverage area.
A small MSO which is not in a comfortable cash position, Arvind of the cable says, "Having 50 LCOs and covering primarily Bangalore East area, we could cover our target and install 70,000 STBs and collect CAF fast. We hope to complete the rest 30 per cent within the deadline. But there may be some spillovers and if it becomes necessary, we will deactivate the boxes as per TRAI orders. Right now, we are definitely losing money as our size is small and providing 245 channels with half of them paid ones, at unrealistic old rates is very difficult to sustain. Only with the full implementation of DAS and packaging in place, a different price structure will be formulated that will solve our problems."
Apart from this, when one looks at the latest TRAI ultimatum issued to MSOs on 16 August, 2013, the scenario seems to be pathetic. The TRAI order just states, "We express serious concern over the slow progress in the entry of consumer details along with choice of channels and services in the subscriber management system of MSOs providing cable TV services. This situation is totally unacceptable and alarming and in the event of non-compliance of rules, the MSO can deactivate the cable TV services as per the provisions of the TRAI Act. In case of any lapse on the part of the LCO or MSO, penal action may be initiated against them by the authorities."
An industry watcher adds, "This is just an empty threat without any power to bite! As far as implementation of Cable TV act is concerned, the only authorised officer to take action is the State Government's Nodal officer nominated by the respective State Government for each city. We are yet to see any action by them on this matter."