Cable operators and companies are gearing up to become the pointsmen in a revolution where the idiot box will increasingly be converted into the home PC and an Internet and entertainment instrument.
“The interactivity would include conditional access system where the consumers have the liberty to watch television channels of their choice without having to pay for those they don’t want to, have video-on-demand, wherein viewers could choose the movie of their choice from a menu and then see it at their own sweet time and a host of other such services,” said Subrata Bhattacharya, general manager (operations), Siticable.
With the convergence sun beginning to rise, projects and alliances are being signed all around the country to set up the infrastructure that would drive interactivity. Spectranet, a Delhi-based firm, has set up a 600 km fibre optic cable network to link up Delhi and Gurgaon through broadband connectivity. Less than a year, the project has drawn close to 3.15 lakh subscribers.
Reliance Industries Ltd has set up an infocom unit to lay broadband riverbeds across Delhi, UP and the western states of Maha-rashtra and Gujarat, apart from planning other convergence-related ventures. The Bharti group also plans to lay fibre optic cables in Delhi. The project in all probability should be ready by March, 2001.
Star TV, in association with the Rajan Raheja promoted Hathway Cable (the former has a stake of 26 per cent in Hathway) plans to come up with a broadband strea-ming portal by April 2001 that would have aggregated content form the Star-invested dotcom sites like Indya.com and Eguru-cool.com, amongst other e-initiatives aimed at interactivity.
The gadgetry requirements would be a cable modem for surfing the net and a set top box for other value-added services like video-on-demand. The equipment cost in the range of Rs 6,000 to Rs 15,000 still works out cheaper than an assembled PC.
Cable, as a medium to provide these services, gets an edge over the PC by its sheer larger density in homes There are close to 75 million television homes of which about 35 million are cable and satellite homes. These figures dwarf the PC-installed base, which, according to a recent industry study, stand at approximately 4.4 million.
With the total number of TV homes increasing by five to six lakhs every year, the projections are that, by 2002, 50 per cent Internet will be accessed through television sets in India, says Suresh Khanna, secretary general, Consumer Electronics and Television Manufacturers’ Association.