Is digitisation the way forward for cable television or is a more fundamental shift in the way we consume content the natural next step? Experts in the field argue that digitisation is inevitable, and particularly as the government talks about a total blackout of analog television signals by 2015, the implementation of systems like DTH is a first step in that direction. The second phase of evolution will also follow, where the context of content will become secondary to the content itself, argue experts.
Ashok Mansukhani, President of the MSO Alliance, noted, “Cable television in India has over 90 million customers. TRAI wants to usher in a transparent digital regime, starting with a blackout in the four big cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai – which will happen in 2012. There is a lot of cost involved in this process, and distributors and content owners need to work together on these issues. Revenue sharing must be discussed, with a fair portion for the government as well.”
Rajesh Chharia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India, said, “Broadband growth is one of the most important issues in front of us today. Internet penetration is still only around 10 per cent and broadband only 1 per cent. There is a lot of content available, but we need the government to form a proper policy, which will support data growth. Policy makers need to address the issues of access for growth like we have seen in mobile. Convergence of devices will bridge the digital divide between rural and urban areas, which is critical.”
Even the growth in DTH is being supported strongly by rural customers, according to LV Krishnan, of TAM Media research. He said, “Digitisation is not a question of whether it will happen, but when. The process has already begun, but government policy would aid this process. What we are seeing is that rural digital connections are growing almost as quickly as the urban, and so with the upcoming move towards digital, it is important that distributors keep the issues of rural areas in mind.”
While the move towards digital was the issue of the moment, over the next two or three years, the question would be about a second wave of digital, where content was device and network agnostic, argued Vikram Chandra, CEO, NDTV Convergence. Chandra added, “Broadband and 3G penetration will drive a second wave of digital content. Today, on the iPad, you can watch NDTV Live television with a 3G connection on the go, and on NDTV.com we streamed 1 billion minutes of live television. This is not like watching at home, where you might leave the screen on in the background – here the user is actively engaged. The numbers are already significant, but what I feel is that in two or three years, as broadband penetration grows, and 3G services become widespread, access is not going to be a problem. An Android handset is already around Rs 5,000. Soon it will be a mass medium, where people will be using these devices more than their televisions.”
Krishnan added to this point, saying, “A combination of incremental improvements to utility and lowered costs drove DTH. As the price and access of such devices goes down, the value they provide will drive their adoption too, if the value is communicated well.”
The speakers were at a panel at a conference on the satellite industry held in New Delhi and organised by CASBAA. While the consensus was that digitisation was inevitable, the speakers also agreed that a major roadblock towards digitisation was the shortage of spectrum, and that the government must support policy, which would drive access and reach out to both rural and urban viewers. Mobile devices and Internet based solutions would be the future of television, the panel concluded.