The poor performance of the Indian National Congress party in four of the states where Assembly polls were held recently, has given many in the Rs 37,000 crore Indian television industry sleepless nights. The possibility that there could be a change in central leadership after the 2014 general elections now appears stark and very real, and the development could put into the freezer, the country’s slow and painful shift to digitally addressable systems. “There is a great shadow cast over the political future of the Congress led UPA government, and it could also eclipse a year’s work on the switch from analogue to digitally addressable systems,” says Roop Sharma, president of Cable Operators Federation of India. The digitisation process, she says, has been forced on Indian consumers despite affordability being a huge issue. “Cheap set top boxes are being sourced and sold in the Indian market, via the multi system operators (MSO). The pictures freeze and there is no interoperability, which means that the consumer is captive in the hands of the provider. There are no customer redressal cells,” she says.
Cartelisation by some of the broadcast groups and their cable and direct to home arms is a matter of huge concern, according to Sharma. “Two of the biggest broadcast groups and their cable and direct-to-home (DTH) arms scoop out most of the market, leaving very little for anyone else,” she says. Over R3000 crore have been invested in the entire digitisation process. While the first phase of digitisation saw 10 million boxes being seeded across the four metros, the second phase has seen 18 million boxes being seeded across 38 cities in 15 states, say executives from the cable and broadcast industry.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is considering disbanding content aggregators (consortiums of broadcasters that distribute channels) in order to bring in a more level playing field. MSOs say that the regulatory body had asked for industry viewpoints on the same and that a directive is expected soon from the body.
“Cartelisation is an issue,” says Jagjit Singh Kohli, managing director and chief executive, Digicable Network India. “The regulator needs to put some sort of a tariff framework in place. There has to be a formula worked out on the exact share of the broadcaster, the MSO and the local cable operator on the subscription money received as was the case in the conditional access system (CAS) era.