Task Force constituted by Information & Broadcasting (I&B) ministry has recommended adoption of Conditional Access System to ‘permit the consumer to have programming of his choice (only)… hopefully at a lower cost.’ Adoption of this expensive technology, though fraught will issues, can alter the mediascape.
Conditional Access is a mode of signal distribution where Cable Operator sends signals in an encoded form and a set-top-box, placed at individual subscriber’s end, decodes the signals. Decoding is possible only for ‘authorized’ channels, request for which should have been pre-placed by subscriber and activated by operator.
Noting the need for Conditional Access, Task Force opined that ‘consumer was paying for all the channels, irrespective of what he actually watched or desired to watch.’ Transparency, accruing from conditional access, would make subscription more affordable and ‘provide realistic and authentic viewership data.’ Task Force has divided channels into two tiers- ‘Basic Tier’ and ‘Premium Tier.’ It feels that the Set Top Box should be mandated only for Premium Tier, which would cover pay channels. Free-to-air channels, part of Basic-tier would be receivable by all viewers at a standard subscription rate. The pricing of Basic-tier would be fixed and revised by government while charges for pay content would be fixed by broadcasters in a ‘transparent manner.’
“Conditional Access is desirable but of little practical significance. I don’t see more than 5% of current satellite households adopting this system in next 2-3 years. The cost of set-top-box is prohibitive, in Indian context,” opines N Bhaskar Rao, Chairman, Center for Media Studies (CMS). Cost of a set-top-box is around Rs. 5000.
The broadcasters, subscribing strongly to this approach, expect to gain big time. The currently rampant under declaration of pay collections can be shored up if this system gains universal acceptance. Addressability, however, can limit the options in the sky since consumers would not afford over 100 channels available today. Media analysts point out that larger broadcasters would gain at the cost of smaller ones.
For cable industry that has grown almost unbridled, some regulation seems to be the need of hour. Will Conditional Access be that regulation, we’ll have to wait and watch.