Delhi: The scope and objective of this article is
to place before the reader the recent ''goings-on'' on the
conditional access system (CAS) front. After reading this
piece, if the reader is more confused than before, well,
then the noble purpose of fair and accurate reporting
would stand vindicated.
dramatis personae in this real-life soap opera
consist of TV broadcasters like Star and Zee, multi-service
operators (MSO) like InCablenet and Hathway who beam the
signals to your homes and the ubiquitous cable operator.
The cast is supported by the advertiser, the government
and the politician.
a TV viewer with a cable connection gets to see a boutique
of about 70 free and paid-for channels by paying Rs 125
to 250 per month. From 14 July 2003, the CAS regime will
be introduced in the four metro cities of Mumbai, New
Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. Here, the viewer will get
to see about 30 channels free by paying Rs 72 per month.
For the paid channels like Star Sports and ESPN the viewer
will have to pay additional amounts, which could range
from Rs 50 to Rs 85 per channel.
the existing system out of the 70 channels, about 10 are
paid-for channels. Which means if each of these channels
charge Rs 50 per month, the viewer has to pay a minimum
of Rs 500 per month. But he gets away by paying just Rs
125-250 per month. A sweet deal, no doubt, but how does
the industry sustain itself and why was it business-as-usual
for the industry?
the cable operator lies about the number of subscribers
in his bouquet. If he has 100 customers, he says he has
only 15 to 20 customers and pays only for them
whopping losses for the TV channels and MSOs (losses to
the government in terms of entertainment and service tax),
and whopping profits for the cable operators.
Ethics and evasion apart, concerns about democracy and
the right of choice are raised. Under the present system,
the viewer has no choice but to see only what the cable
operator offers him. Under CAS, we are told that the viewer
has the choice to pay for only what he wants to see and
not pay for what he does not want to see. Really?
date, none of the TV broadcasters have declared the channels
that will be paid for and which will be free under CAS.
Moreover, even under the new dispensation, the viewer
will have no choice but to stick to his cable operator
who will have no choice but to stick to his MSO who does
not know what he will be beaming for free and for paid
after the landmark day of 14 July. Therefore, the viewer
will have the democratic choice of seeing only what his
MSO and the cable operator beam to him.
the Rs 72 for the 30-plus free-channel scheme sounds attractive,
there is another price tag. The viewer has to install
a device called a set-top box (STB). It is only after
installing the STB that he can watch the paid-for channels.
The STBs are of two types digital and analogue
and they are available at a price that the viewer
does not know.
has been widely circulated in the media that a digital
STB can cost anything between Rs 4,000 and Rs 7,000. What
is the difference between a Rs 7,000 STB and a Rs 4,000
STB is unclear. Nevertheless, the price range is quite
high for the average viewer to go for an immediate purchase
make things easier, the viewer can purchase an analogue
STB, which could cost Rs 2,000 or less. That was a measure
meant to mitigate the hardship of the middle- and lower-middle-class
viewer. Only, almost all the widely subscribed MSOs are
not offering analogue STBs. The viewer''s democratic choice
is, therefore, restricted to the Rs 4,000-to-Rs 7,000
Last Friday (30 June), keeping in view the public mood
towards CAS, the government slashed the import duty on
the STBs. The STBs will now cost about 45 per cent less.
This largesse is only temporary, as the duty cut is valid
only up to the 31 July, after which the old rates are
players in the industry, particularly the TV broadcasters
and the advertisers, very well know that hardly 10 per
cent of the viewers will switch to CAS by 31 July. And
these 10 per cent are the guys who would switch to CAS
irrespective of the cost, while others would wait and
watch. So who really benefits?
also needs to spare a thought for the TV broadcasters
and the advertisers. They are completely in the dark about
the viewer ship-pattern that will emerge in the metropolises
and in other towns after CAS. Thus, the broadcasters are
grappling with what advertisement rates they will offer
under free and under paid for and in which city. The advertiser
is also struggling to figure out which advertisement to
insert in which channel. The kind of numbers-crunching
presently going on in their offices will make a rocket
the politicians are also dead against CAS as they feel
that the public, deprived of entertainment, will anger
their mood against them, particularly in sensitive election
times. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit has as good as
said that she would allow CAS to be implemented over her
dead body. Delhi faces elections in a few months and she
is demanding for CAS to be postponed.
whole CAS episode can be likened to a typical soap opera
where initially about 52 episodes are planned. By the
time you come to the 40th episode, you would
notice that there are sudden twists
and turns in the tale and the serial gets stretched to
200-plus episodes. The recent twists and turns in the
CAS story indicate that we are in the 40th
episode and the story may well end in 2005 after
the general elections.