In all conversations of digitisation of the Indian broadcasting industry, comment has been made, time and again on whether the Government of India’s MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) has the will to push digitisation agenda and survive what observing the sunset date on analogue would entail.
Even before taking on a comment of this nature, Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary of the MIB, dissected the ecosystem to analyse if there was anyone amongst the industry stakeholders who may not want broadcast digitisation.
Allowing viewer’s right to choose channels & revenue: Government’s reasons for digitisation
Sahu began with the government itself. She said, “If there is a question on whether the government wants digitisation or not, then there shouldn’t be. If we just looked at the amount of money that the government is losing by way of fees, you will realise that from a pure revenue point of view, digitisation is important for the government.”
She explained that a majority portion of broadcasting distribution in India took place through the cable system. In various other countries, the process of digitisation took about 10 years on an average, given its complexity. In fact, in most of these countries, the monopoly of terrestrial distribution was not of a public broadcaster as private players are also allowed in the space. “From that perspective, India will achieve digitisation in the shortest time possible and we are pushing the agenda to achieve this,” said Sahu.
She quoted data to say that direct to home players at present commanded 25 per cent of Indian television households and about 51 per cent homes were in the cable distribution system. Sahu elaborated, “We are reaching just a little more than half of the industry through cable. So revenue is only one factor, reaching out to the people of the country and giving them a better TV viewing experience that they deserve is possible only through digitisation. It is a viewer’s right to choose the channel he or she wants to consume irrespective of the region he or she is in.”
She pointed out over here that the TRAI’s (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) mandate of ‘must carry, must provide’ for 500 channels was in line with this. “Which other country in the world offers this? You will be able to watch your channel of choice, sitting where you like. This is the kind of revolution in information and we want to make this happen.”
Without digitisation, cable & broadcasters will perish
Sahu then explained that broadcasters would like digitisation to happen as they would want to reverse the advertising and subscription revenue ratio to reduce their dependence on advertising revenues. “This would align broadcasters in India with what is happening across the world,” said Sahu.
She then concentrated on the cable operator sector of the ecosystem and said that if cable operators did not opt for digital modes of operation now, they would soon lose the race to direct to home players that not only commanded 25 per cent of Indian television households but are also adding one million households every month. She said, “Even if there are sections of cable operators that don’t want it, then they have to realise that they would want it. Despite its limitations, DTH is growing drastically and this only makes it an opportune time for every cable operator to become digital.”
Cable ops should not only become digital, but also have digital head-ends as well, as there is HITS on the anvil as well, which in turn would allow cable operators to become MSOs (multi service operators) too. “Cable operators are excited about this opportunity even though they are apprehensive and it is important to address these concerns. Broadcasters must go an extra mile to ensure cable operators concerns are also addressed,” Sahu added.
Over 60 pc interconnect agreements signed; digitisation on track
She went on to say that given that all stakeholders will only benefit from digitisation, we need to understand that everyone is on board and working towards it. She confessed that postponing the first deadline of digitisation was a difficult decision, but the MIB was informed that around 94 lakh subscribers did not have set top boxes by the middle of June, when the digitisation deadline was June 31, 2012.
However, now over 60 pc of interconnect agreement have been signed and last week, one of the MSOs seeded 80,000 set top boxes. The government is reviewing the on-ground process every week and the momentum of seeing one lakh set top boxes a week is back, after having drastically declined soon after the digitisation deadline was postponed.
“We have also been viewing the delivery schedules of set top boxes, and let me also tell you that if MSOs and subsequently cable operators don’t push the set top boxes to consumers, they will be saddled with huge inventory and it would be a disaster,” said Sahu.
She affirmed, “Digitisation deadline of October 31 will be met. The industry will lose an opportunity if it is not. MSOs licenses have been cancelled and many more show-cause notices have been issued. Digitisation is an idea whose time has come.”
She concluded by saying, “It was not the Government’s responsibility to get interconnect agreements signed, or distribute set top boxes. Government was supposed to bring policy, play a role in facilitating the right environment and while I am not trying to shift the blame, these are facts that indicate the Government is doing what it needs to in order to make digitisation happen in time.”
Supriya Sahu was a speaker at the exchange4media organised NewsNext on August 31, 2012, presented by Dish TV and powered by Television Street Maps.