With just about 45 days remaining before digitisation of cable television comes into play in four major cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata – in the first phase on July 1, Local Cable Operators (LCOs) and Multi System Operators (MSOs) are faced with a Herculean task. A looming question is whether the digitisation deadline set by the Government will be met as ground realities paint a different picture altogether.
exchange4media takes stock of the situation and the preparedness in these four cities, starting with Delhi.
The Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) and the various LCOs operating in the National Capital feel that it is near impossible to bring Delhi under the digitisation umbrella on July 1. Aggravating this situation is the demand-supply gap in set-top boxes, not enough manpower to install the set top boxes and to top it all, a general public apathy towards getting the set top boxes installed at homes.
On the other hand, SN Sharma, CEO, DEN Network, maintained that there was no shortage of STBs in his company. He added, “Sitting and watching will not help anybody. During the last one month, the momentum has picked up and we are totally geared to meet the deadline.”
He further said that DEN had 33 consumer centres to resolve the various issues that customers were facing. The company has also trained its employees so they can engage and inform the consumers by organising various workshops in different parts of Delhi.
However, Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) disagrees, “We have no problem with the initiative that the Government has taken, but it is a half baked plan and the time period that we have been given in which to complete the process is unacceptable.”
She further said that the revenue pie is very small – Rs 45 for every Rs 100. This is not enough as at the end of the day, cable operators have to face the customers and solve their various issues. “We have decided to do nothing. We will just wait and watch till June 30. After that the public will react to the Government’s decision on digitisation,” she added.
Meanwhile, DTH players are gearing up for the switchover from cable subscribers that they are anticipating. One such player is Airtel Digital TV.
Talking to exchange4media, Shashi Arora, CEO, DTH/Media, Bharti Airtel shared, “We are completely geared up in all the departments – sales, marketing, manpower and stock. We have our plans in place 8-12 weeks in advance as we are expecting a lot of DTH connections to be installed in light of the digitisation process.”
He further said Airtel Digital had enough resources to meet the anticipated demand and had appointed two people for each installation.
Not enough set top boxes: LCOs
Delhi needs more than 50 lakh set top boxes (STBs) of which only 10 lakh are available currently in the warehouses. Given that only 45 days remain, more than 1 lakh STBs need to be installed per day to meet the deadline and the demand – an impossible task, stress LCOs in Delhi.
As AK Rastogi, owner of Avishkar Dish Antenna, an LCO operating in Delhi’s Adarsh Nagar area elucidated, “There are two problems that are major drawbacks – firstly, there are not enough set top boxes to meet the demand and second is the lack of cooperation from subscribers. When it comes to the installation of the STBs, the subscribers say that since the Government has introduced this new rule, it should be giving the set top boxes, why should they shell out hefty amounts to get the STBs.”
Rastogi further said that his company covers more than 1,000 households in the Adarsh Nagar area. Avishkar has purchased 100 STBs at a cost of Rs 70,000 and installed them in some households. However, he has not been able to procure any more STBs due to shortage in supply despite having made advance payment for them.
The situation is such that various LCO bodies of Adarsh Nagar have requested for police protection of their offices and homes the night on June 30 onwards, anticipating public anger over discontinuation of cable services in analog mode from July 1.
No manpower: MSOs
While MSOs are happy that they can garner a larger pie of the revenue and they have got all the LCO subscribers to pay the monthly bills to them, their hands too are tied as the demand for STBs is much greater than the supply.
Rajeshwar Choudhry, owner of Satellite Channel, an MSO operating in Delhi, shared, “I am working as both LCO and MSO. When I look from an MSO point of view, I am not all that worried, but I do agree that we are not going to meet the July 1 deadline. And when I look from an LCO point of view, there is nothing to gain; we are merely working as a puppet of the Government.”
According to him, manpower is the million dollar question when it comes to meeting the digitisation deadline. Choudhry pointed out that majority of the labour force is from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and at this time of the year when summer reaches its peak, they head towards their hometowns. Thus there is a manpower shortage. “Even if they stay back, there is still a problem. One person can install around five STBs in one day; when you take the figure of installing 1 lakh STBs per day, it is a staggering figure,” he stressed.
There are roughly 2,200 LCOs in Delhi and on an average each LCO has two to four field boys to install the STBs. Even if one person installs five STBs per day, only one-third of the households would be covered before the July 1 deadline.