Households in metros have to switch to digital TV by June 30
Households in metros seem to have no choice but to switch to digital TV before June 30. Going by a notification of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, more than 10 million TV homes may go blank if they do not turn digital by then.
Following the introduction of the conditional access system (CAS) in four metros in 2007, which makes it mandatory to have set-top boxes to watch pay channels of our choice, the Ministry is hastening the nationwide cable digitisation process as recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
As per the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2011, the entire cable TV network should be digitised in three phases. In the first phase, the four metros will be digitised (by June 30) and in the second, cities with over 10 lakh people will be covered. By the end of 2014, the entire country is expected to have phased out analogue cable TV.
There are approximately 140 million homes with a television set in the country; almost 92 per cent of these (136 million homes) come under the cable and satellite (C&S) connectivity. The rest access only terrestrial channels (read Doordarshan channels). Of these C&S homes, cable reaches 94 million homes, while the rest are connected by either DTH (direct-to-home, which is 41 million) or HITS and IP TV (Internet Protocol TV), which has a base of around 1 million.
Of the 94 million cable homes, a large chunk (about 88 million) is still analogue, while a meagre six million homes are watching TV through set-top boxes (that receive and decode digital TV signals). There are some major disadvantages in the analogue cable system. It cannot carry more than 90-100 channels, while there are more than 600 channels available.
There is no mechanism in place to track how many homes watch pay channels, thereby paving the way for under-declaration of subscription collected by local cable operators — the last-mile operators in the cable value chain.
Digitisation of the cable network will hugely benefit the broadcasting industry as there will be a tracking mechanism. Consumers will have enhanced viewing pleasure as an optical fibre cable can easily carry more than 400 channels.
Roop Sharma, president, Indian Cable Operators' Federation, says: “But, this calls for investments — upward of Rs.15,000 crore — and almost all of this will flow out of the country, as set-top boxes and head-end equipment [need to decrypt and encrypt digital TV signals from satellites] are to be imported.”
The bigger challenge is to convince people to buy a set-top box (costing Rs.1,500), and pay more to watch pay channels.
Analogue TV homes are, on an average, paying Rs.100 a month. Once digitised, they may have to shell out at least 50 per cent more.
However, D. Vivekanandan, Managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Arasu Cable Corporation, said it did not seem possible to meet the deadline as it called for huge investments to procure at least 20 lakh set-top boxes (for Chennai city) and to set up head-ends in the next few months.
As organised multi-system operators (MSOs) such as Hathway Cable, Den Network, Wire and Wireless and Incablenet cater for these cities (except in a few pockets), the optical fibre cable network and head-ends are already in place. But procuring 10 million set-top boxes and seeding them within the next five months could prove a deterrent, informed sources said, and hence the cable industry might seek an extension of the deadline.
But, the Ministry has said the deadline would not be extended as it did not see any shortage of set-top boxes. It remains to be seen how many TVs in the metros turn digital and how many go blank.