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Christopher Slaughter, CEO, CASBAA

Smita Jha, Head - Entertainment & Media Practice | 08 Mar 2013

(Christopher Slaughter) Digitisation is the largest single movement for commercial priority and consumer choice taking place anywhere in the world. Given the size of the Indian market, the sheer ambitiousness makes it the biggest thing in the pay TV industry. It will bring in greater transparency and the latest technology to the broadcast sector.

Christopher Slaughter is the CEO of CASBAA. He has more than 25 years of experience. Prior to CASBAA, Slaughter was MD and Executive Producer at production company APV, Head of Asia-Pacific research and consulting at The Yankee Group, and Hong Kong and Shanghai Bureau Chief for CNBC Asia.

Smita Jha leads the Entertainment and Media Practice in PwC India. She has extensive experience in developing market entry strategies and television. She has authored consultation papers for various industry forums such as FICCI, CII, IBEF, and has also authored annual reports on the industry for the last six years.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Abid Hasan and Twishy, Slaughter and Jha speak about CASBAA’s approach towards India, the digitisation process, hike on duty on STBs, the business of movies and more...

Q. What are CASBAA’s plans in India?

(Christopher Slaughter) India has been in CASBAA’s plans for quite some time. Our organisation has 18 markets across the Asia Pacific and India is one of the most important markets. We plan to increase our presence and our relevance here as well as increase our services to our clients. We also plan to build a platform where we can bring information and technology to different cable operators, DTH operators and to connect them.

Q. How do you view the digitisation scenario in India; how is it different from other markets?

(Christopher Slaughter) Digitisation is the largest single movement for commercial priority and consumer choice taking place anywhere in the world. Given the size of the Indian market, the sheer ambitiousness makes it the biggest thing in the pay TV industry. It will bring in greater transparency and the latest technology to the broadcast sector.

Every market has its own set of dynamics and there can’t be close comparisons. Hence, we can’t say that what’s happening in India is similar to China or Malaysia, because the market dynamics are different. Part for our job is to understand how these dynamics work.

The first phase saw some problems and now the second phase is underway, to be followed by the subsequent phases. The general consensus in the industry is that the process is going incredibly smoothly.

Q. But the ground reality is somewhat different – with just 22 days remaining for the Phase II deadline, 45 per cent of the STB installations are yet to be completed...

(Christopher Slaughter) To expect 100 per cent implementation by a specific day because that day has been already chosen is perhaps unrealistic. To expect significant movement toward achieving that target is not unrealistic, but to get there is what the industry is moving towards, we will get pretty close to that. I think 55 per cent is better than what we were sitting on in January 2013.

Q. Do you think we are heading towards postponement of the deadline?

(Christopher Slaughter) Even I can’t answer that; but this is a process and not a destination. There is a final destination in hand and it needs to be done. The success in Phase I will generate success in Phase II and it’s not just a lesson learnt about the role of DAS and STBs, but it’s about when people will actually see increase in ARPU and a change in the business dynamics. That will provide the momentum and completion of Phase II and III will happen.

Q. Post-digitisation what will the revenue model in India look like?

(Christopher Slaughter) For each pay TV operator in the market, the revenue mix is different, but most of them have a dual revenue scheme – one is subscription revenue and the second is advertising revenue. In India, the bulk of the revenue for the channels will come from ad revenues, and the second part will be subscription revenues. In the coming times, the industry will find additional revenue schemes with different services such as video on demand and so on.

Q. STBs are the most important ingredient of digitisation, but the recent move of hike on import duty is creating chaos. How it will affect the ongoing digitisation process?

(Smita Jha) I think the intention of the Government to say that it wants to promote local manufacturing of set top boxes is absolutely well appreciated, but the kind of demand and volume of demand in India and current supply from the local manufactures don’t match. There is a huge gap in supply and demand and from that perspective, the intention is right, but on practical grounds, the supply is not enough. In such a case, we are already putting pressure on cable operators to secure and install the boxes at consumer premises.

If the supply is not there in India, cable operators have to secure the product from outside and from that perspective it’s going to be big hit and will impact double in terms of custom duty. The unfairness is supply is not enough and you are already pushing them to make lots of investment in the boxes. Instead, the Government could have provided more incentives and other benefits to promote local manufacture.

The intention of promoting local manufacturing is correct, but the timing and manner is not correct.

Q. We have seen that Government has put a lot of restrictions on cross media ownership. Do you think it’s like a double-edged sword for the industry?

(Smita Jha) Any Government will like fair play in terms of industry and it’s logical. There are particular instances where the government sees fair play is lacking, it then has the right to intervene.

The television industry is witnessing a lot of convergence; different technologies are developing and various distribution platforms are coming up, so the world is moving towards a convergence platform. Everything is coming together, so there will be a natural interest for all players to participate in all platforms. It will add value to their offerings and the customers will be satisfied.

While technology allows one to perform together, regulation will come in and say no, this is something that needs greater focus.

Q. Coming to cinema, today, the gap between a theatre launch and television premiere is narrowing. What kind of shifts are you seeing in the cinema media?

(Smita Jha) It’s a very good thing for the industry. Earlier, the dependence on theatre revenue was very high – 80-90 per cent of the revenue was coming from a single source and it is not a very favourable thing for any business. Another avenue was the music rights.

From the perspective of a producer, if you have any more revenue options, then it’s a very good thing because you are the one risking your entire business. With the satellite and digital rights coming in there are more funds available.

For TV channels, too, movies are good news. With growing number of channels, creating differentiation, especially for general entertainment channels, is becoming increasingly difficult. One major avenue for differentiation is the weekend movies slots. Hence, channels have started investing more and more in films and bagging satellite rights for first airings on their channels. It has worked for both channels and movie producers and has become a win-win.

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