Average spending by households is bound to increase and the choices on offer are not going to be too consumer-friendly, finds Karthik Subramanian

With the rollout of digital addressable system (DAS) for television viewing imminent in the city, a package of woes awaits subscribers in the State.

Two things appear inevitable: the average spending by households on TV viewing is bound to increase and the choices on offer are not going to be too consumer-friendly.

The multi-system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators have been lobbying for advances — ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 — for digital set-top boxes (STBs), and there have been periodic blackouts of channels to urge consumers to buy STBs.

Deadlines many

The city has already missed the October 31 deadline set by the ministry of information and broadcasting.

Initially, it was due to a case in the Madras High Court, and subsequently due to a confusing scenario of bickering and blinking in which neither the Ministry nor broadcasters or MSOs informed when they would discontinue analog signals and switch over to the mandated digital mode.

Under the DAS regime, every television set would require a digital STB to view any channel, including the free-to-air ones hitherto provided by cable operators here for a basic tier charge of Rs. 100.

While an STB — from either a cable operator or a DTH service provider — would set back a consumer by a fee ranging from Rs. 1,300 to Rs. 2,000 (for standard-definition boxes), the bouquets on offer are likely to inflate monthly bills further.

‘Blackouts not the way’

Roop Sharma, president of Cable Operators Federations of India (COFI), also one of the members of the task force committee constituted by the Ministry for the rollout of DAS, said it was unfortunate that channels were being blacked out by broadcasters and MSOs, on the insistence of the Ministry, to literally force consumers to opt for DAS.

“It should be a choice they make based on what is good for them,” she said. “What is the hurry in switching signal feed from analog to digital when billing is still in analog mode? How will this ensure the money goes to the government?” she said.

On how the rollout had favoured consumers in New Delhi and Mumbai (where the Ministry claimed the DAS rollout had been successful), Ms. Sharma said it had been a ‘lose-lose’ equation.

Other metros

“The situation has hardly proved beneficial to consumers. Even the STBs the MSOs have distributed to consumers have not been billed properly. They have claimed advances or full payment as ‘activation charges’. At the end of the day, consumers cannot even claim ownership of the boxes. Also, the government has not received VAT on the boxes,” she said.

Cable TV unexplored

In Chennai, for most residents it seems a hard choice to make between DTH and Cable TV.

Despite cable TV having the opportunity to expand its services into offerings like broadband internet and video-on-demand, the services in Chennai have hardly explored the avenue.

The basic-tier bouquet for cable TV has been set around Rs. 100 whereas the basic tier for most DTH service packages starts in excess of Rs. 150.

A cable TV subscriber who recently shifted to a DTH service ended up with a monthly bill in excess of Rs. 350 to access the same channels he was viewing, till last month, for a cost of less than Rs. 200.

The basic packages offered by DTH services do not have the free-to-air Tamil channels available in the conditional access system (CAS) regime that was in effect till October 2012.

“The consumers are not consulted by any of the services before basic packages are designed,” Ms. Sharma said.