Broadcasters, MSOs Team Up In Bid To Ensure Smooth Take-off For CAS

Chennai: | Updated: Mar 31 2003, 05:30am hrs
Star TV has initiated the formation of an informal group of broadcasters and multi-system operators (MSOs) to ensure a glitch-free conditional access system when it takes off in July this year.

ORG-MARG To Conduct A Survey On Cable Industry
OUR eFE BUREAU

New Delhi: Although quite late in the day, the taskforce on the conditional access system (CAS) has engaged ORG-MARG for a marketing survey of the cable industry in the country, according to government officials. At the taskforce meeting last week, a decision was taken to get an independent agency for a survey of the ground realities in cable operation in the metros.
The need for an independent agency was stressed by the representatives of the CAS taskforce, particularly cable operators, who were upset with a proposal to peg the basic tier pricing at Rs 45.90 per subscriber per month. It was felt that the finance ministry representative on the taskforce had calculated the basic tier cost based on incorrect assumptions. To set that right, ORG-MARG has been engaged to collect data, thereby helping the taskforce arrive at a realistic price for the free-to-air channels under CAS, when it is implemented on July 14 in metros.

The group consists of all the important members of Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and ICBF (Indian Cable Broadcasters Federation) including pay channel-bouquets like Star, Zee-Turner, Sony, ESPN-Star Sports and MSOs like SitiCable, Hathway, SCV, InCable and RPG Netcom.

The main objective of the group is to make CAS a success by bringing about a concensus among all the stakeholders regarding the various issues related to its implementation with a common plan, said Star India Pvt Ltd chief operating officer Sameer Nair. The group is trying to bring about standardisation in the industry by discussing the possibility of ensuring a uniform approach in handling issues like pricing of the cable service as well as set-top boxes, besides promotional activities and tackling piracy.

As yet, there is no clarity on questions like where the set-top boxes, required to be placed at the subscribers premises, will be sourced from; who will pay for the box - customer or the MSO; what kind of box will be used - analog or digital; according to Tony DSilva, executive vice-president - distribution of Star India. We are trying to get some commitment from the MSOs about the number of boxes they will start with, he said.

There are 6.3 million cable and satellite (C&S) omes in the four metros where CAS will be initially implemented and it is still not clear whether set-top boxes will be in place in all C&S homes on Day One, he added.

Some of the other issues the newly formed group is trying to find answers to include how CAS should be promoted so that a common marketing plan can be devised. Apart from mass-media advertisements, the group is also considering mass direct mailers and a shared call centre to take care of consumer queries. The broadcasters are ready to contribute substantially towards promoting the service, said Mr Nair.

Meanwhile, Doordarshan is readying its CAS promotion campaign which is likely to be aired next week, by when the pricing for the initial package of 30 free channels is expected to be finalised.

IBF, which is part of the CAS task-force set up by the government, is asking for Rs 35 as the basic price for the standard (Tier I) category. The cable operators, on the other hand, feel that the pricing should be based on the density of population in different parts of the country as the length of cable to be used depends on that, according to industry sources.

The government is currently evaluating the basic subscription fees to be charged and is likely to carry out an independent survey on the density of population in various parts of the country to reach an acceptable average minimum tariff.