The latest notification in Cable Television Networks rules in context to Conditional Accessibility System (CAS), dated July 31, 2006, is being seen as a progressive step for all concerned as it has kept the consumer at its core. However, the final execution rests in the hands of multi-service operators (MSOs), and both broadcasters and MSOs are geared up to meet the December 31, 2006 deadline.
As is known, the notification states that CAS, which at present is observed in the Chennai market, has to be taken to other key areas and the next line-up comprises South Mumbai, South Delhi and South Kolkata. Media experts believe that an average of eight lakh cable and satellite households are present in each of these markets and with this move, approximately 24 lakh households instantly come on the addressable platform.
A noteworthy aspect of the notification is in Clause 4 of Point 15, which suggests that if TRAI believes that the arrangements made by MSOs aren’t adequate and the switchover is likely to go against the interests of subscribers in any notified area, then the regulatory authority may recommend to the Central government an extension of the notified date.
However, MSOs don’t think that would happen. “In fact, the period could have been cut to three months,” said Ashok Mansukhani, President of MSO Alliance and EVP, Hinduja TMT. “We are pleased with the clear cut High Court verdict and the prompt action taken by the Government to issue the notification and the amended CAS rules. Ultimately broadcasters gain the most because they are paid for the entire base while consumers can pick and choose and tailor their cable bills. The encouraging point here is that MSOs get a level playing field to compete with alternate technologies like DTH,” he added.
K Jayaraman, CEO, Hathaway, said, “We have in any case been taking various initiatives to promote digitisation of cable services. Due to this, we have experience of consumer marketing in addition to trade marketing and we are ready and geared with enough set-top boxes to take on the notified areas.”
Echoing the optimism, A Mohan, Vice-President, SitiCable, said, “Last time, the implementation of CAS suffered because of various reasons such as the MRP to be declared by the channels, and the issue of the set-top boxes. But this time around, the rules notified by the Government have been welcomed by the MSOs and cable operators alike. The consumers now have a choice to rent a set top box, thus, giving maximum powers to the viewers.”
However, neither Jayaraman nor Mohan were able to give a specific number of set-top boxes deployed or the target they have in mind till the year-end. Mansukhani said, “A large number of boxes have already been deployed for digital delivery services. We are fully geared to deploy boxes on demand. We are awaiting broadcaster declaration of pay channel rates and a series of CAS regulations by TRAI expected this month. Enough boxes are available to meet customer demand in the notified areas.”
Broadcasters have their faith in MSOs. Voicing this, Anuj Gandhi, President, One Alliance, said, “This is a different ball game for them as they have to concentrate on consumer marketing as well now. However, we deal with them on a daily basis and we know that they are prepared to take on the CAS rollout. In all, this is a very positive step and everyone wants to make it happen. There is enough responsibility on MSOs now and they realise that.”
Looking at the notification, MSOs have to take prior permission from the Government before the deployment of set-top boxes in the CAS markets. The government has directed MSOs with guidelines to ensure smooth transition to the CAS platform, which include the likes of consumer marketing around set-top boxes, availability of set-top boxes on rent, removal of any technical snags for easy operation of set-top boxes, care in the decision of maximum MRPs for channels and even a 15-day trial period of the set-top box to ensure the quality it provides amongst various other specifications.
Consumer marketing should begin around September 2006 and continue for at least a period of 30 days using mass media and direct mediums like leaflets, personal visits and group meetings. The notification iterates that apart from this, the supply and installation of set-top boxes, the maintenance of quality of service as per standards and the entire transition to the addressable system would be managed by MSOs and the TRAI should be satisfied with the preparation.
Jayaraman pointed out here, “Right now, much of the deployment is happening on a voluntary basis. However, once the consumer marketing kicks in by September 2006, we expect some more action. We would be using mass media routes at the time to spread CAS awareness and we are also organising consumer forums and other meetings in this regard. Of course, once CAS is actually implemented, there would be further demand on these set-top boxes.”
Mohan added, “Thanks to consumer complaints, now each channel will have to notify its MRP within 15 days. In case the price is too high for the channel, TRAI will fix the prices. Also, in extreme cases, TRAI can also cancel the channel’s downlinking licence. The cap on the MRP will not only help consumers, but also cable operators and MSOs as the prices will now be frozen.”
All involved appear to be prepared. Unlike the 10+2 count that still has some unclear areas, on this aspect, there is complete clarity. CAS is competing with the likes of DTH today and consumers have a choice, advertisers have more measurability and as Sameer Nair, CEO, STAR Entertainment, once put it, with such initiatives, the power was right back in the hands of the content creators.