Well begun, but not half done

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SummaryWith set-top boxes yet to be installed in half of the cable homes in the four metros, and state governments like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu seeking another extension, the television industry’s worst fears might come true if digitisation is delayed again.

When the government passed an ordinance on compulsory digitisation of the television industry’s distribution system by December 2014, most players in the industry saw it as a life-changing opportunity but realised that it wouldn’t be easy to install millions of set-top boxes on time to make the switch. But implementation of even phase 1 of the project—digitisation of four metros, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata—is proving to be a huge task. One deadline, June 30, has already been missed and now the industry is worried that the October 31 deadline too might be difficult to keep.

Already, the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu governments have written to the Centre to extend the deadline once again by at least three more months. Bengal urban development minister Firhad Hakim tells FE that many of the MSOs (multi-system operators) have not been able to supply set-top boxes to consumers. “It is not possible for the MSOs to meet the deadline since they have received only 40-50% of set-top boxes (STBs),” he says.

According to E&Y analysts, it is estimated that India has 127 million cable and satellite homes, of which around 32 million are direct-to-home or DTH, seven million digital cable and 88 million analogue cable homes. Industry estimates point out that the distribution business will need to invest around R7,500 crore in the digitisation process, with phase I in the four metros requiring R1,100 crore. Digitisation will bring transparency in the distribution system, consumers will have more choice and the quality of broadcasting will improve. But has enough been done to install set-top boxes in the four metros?

‘Not enough STBs’

In Kolkata, the Cable Operator Digitisation Committee—it has 1,500 members across the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA)—is meeting this week to take stock of how many installations the operators have managed so far. A state government official says if analogue signals are stopped from November 1, it will lead to a law and order problem in KMA. According to operators, KMA has around 40 lakh cable TV connections, and admit that only 32-35% have set-top boxes. Suresh Sethia, director of the largest MSO, Siti Cable, says, “We have already delivered six lakh set-top boxes to our consumers and we are hopeful of delivering 2.5-3 lakh more boxes by end of October.” According to Sethia, July-August saw a lack of demand from consumers in Kolkata, but it picked up again in October. Although 5-7% consumers will prefer

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