Consensus On CAS Basic Tier Composition, Not On Pricing

New Delhi: | Updated: Aug 23 2002, 05:30am hrs
Following inputs from various stakeholders of the conditional access system (CAS)broadcasters, cable operators and multi-service operatorsthe Cost Committee met here on Thursday to decide the number of channels in the basic tier and their pricing.

While theres a broad consensus that there would be 33 channels, including the three must-carry Doordarshan (DD) channels, in the basic tier under CAS, pricing is still being debated. Some broadcasters and multi-service operators have indicated that the monthly cable bill for the basic tier should be in the range of Rs 35 to 40. But independent cable operators have protested this pricing. These cable operators want the basic tier channels to be priced at anything from Rs 3 to Rs 5 each, thereby pushing the monthly cable bill for free-to-air channels or the basic tier to Rs 150 a month.

The committee, with representatives of the Finance Ministry and Information & Broadcasting Ministry, among others, will finalise the cost in the next few days. In fact, the stakeholders including broadcasters and cable operators have been told to send their respective pricing for basic tiers, along with their explanation for such a pricing, within the next three days.

Whats interesting in all this is the growing rift between the cable operators camps over CAS.

Earlier, the cable operators fraternity appeared united over issues connected to CAS, but now some MSOs are favouring broadcasters in pricing of the basic tier, say sources. Reason: If the basic tier costs as low as Rs 35 to Rs 40, pay channels can continue to charge the existing rates or even higher even in the CAS regime, without disturbing the monthly cable bill of the consumer much.

As per the cost recommendations sent by various parties earlier, Prasar Bharati had recommended Rs 100 per month as the basic tier pricing for 45 channels. For free-to-air channels in excess of 45, the public broadcaster recommended a price of Rs 2.50 per additional channel. ESPN, which is a pay channel in the Star bouquet, suggested a much lower rate for the basic tier: Rs 25 only for 30 free-to-air (FTA) channels.

Multi-service operators (MSOs), on the other hand, asked for the basic tier to be priced at Rs 100 or below. While Hathway recommended Rs 75 for 20 free-to-air channels, Indusind Media wanted 48 FTA channels at Rs 100, and Sun Cable Vision Rs 100 for 30 FTA channels. Of the independent cable operators, Cable Networks Association recommended a monthly rate of Rs 125 to Rs 150 for a bouquet of 30 to 35 free-to-air channels.