Ahead of elections, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa has realised that the new TV distribution technology - conditional access system (CAS) - can play a spoilsport. So, for the first time, the chief minister has shot off a letter to information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, requesting him to stop CAS in Chennai. Chennai was the only metro to roll out CAS way back in September, when others cited some reason or the other to put it on hold.
The first zone of Delhi (South Delhi) was the only other to follow much later, triggered by a court verdict. But, without a policy direction, CAS is already a casualty in the city. According to figures given out by cable networks, in the past couple of days, around 3 lakh homes in the first zone of Delhi are receiving all pay channels even without set-top boxes. There are around 3.8 lakh cable homes in South Delhi, in all.
The government had mandated CAS for all four metros, in phases, from September 2003. CAS refers to a subscriber accessing pay channels of his choice through a set-top box at his premises.
Sources say, besides writing a letter to Mr Prasad, Ms Jayalalithaa also expressed her concerns regarding CAS to him, in person. In her letter, the chief minister said that viewers in Chennai are being put to hardship as only very few cable TV homes with set-top boxes can access the pay channels.
In the five months that CAS has been there in Chennai, only about 20,000 homes are said to have installed set-top boxes. The total number of cable TV homes in the city is estimated to be around 10 lakh.
Even as Chennai was seen largely as a non-pay TV market, and some broadcasters had even recommended a pilot run in the city when CAS was a burning issue last year, Ms Jayalalithaa doesn’t want to take a chance.
Meanwhile, the information and broadcasting ministry is awaiting recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on CAS. Government sources said that a definite view on CAS was expected by end of this month. Election agenda and consumer-friendly TV viewing would be kept in mind, they indicated.