Conditional Access System (CAS) is back under the scanner again and the trigger this time is the Delhi High Court’s judgement passed on March 11, 2006 requiring CAS to be implemented in the next four weeks in South Delhi. Being present only in the Chennai region at present, CAS has as yet not altered life for the Indian broadcast system. Will this ruling take us in that direction? Experts delve.
Industry experts are clear on one point – CAS will be a significant distribution platform going forward and this is a step in that direction. The question now is ‘by when’ and ‘the manner in which it will be implemented’. Highlighting this, Sam Balsara, Chairman, Madison Media, said, “CAS is inevitable in the Indian market, but since unlike other distribution platforms CAS has to be mandated by the government, the nature of how it is implemented is of equal importance for its acceptance in the market.”
Agreeing with this, Ashutosh Srivastava, CEO, GroupM, South Asia, said that this was still too little for the implementation of CAS in India. “Given the current pricing in the absence of CAS, I think this should be made mandatory and not just for pay channels only. This monthly rent model can be made to work within the current overall subscription per household. That will create significant revenue streams for broadcasters and pave the way for the growth of the industry,” he added.
For Balsara, even as the High Court’s ruling on the implementation of CAS in South Delhi is a step forward for the system gaining better foothold in India, the implementation time of four weeks wasn’t practical.
Ravi Kiran, Managing Director, Starcom MediaVest Group, South Asia thought so, too. “How will this be achieved? It is not just people knowing that a system is in place – it is actually putting a system in place, which includes provision of set top boxes, knowledge of the kinds of choices that the consumer can make and so on,” he maintained. Agreeing with him, Haresh Chawla, CEO, TV-18 Group, said, “Implementing CAS in four weeks is impossible, but the processes sure can begin.”
Elaborating further on how he viewed this judgment, Chawla said, “I think the matter is back to the government again as to how this goes forward. We are still in the wait and watch mode – what the government does now and how things are going to shape up.”
TAM Media Research, CEO, L V Krishnan, opined on similar lines. “I still have to see how different the notification is from what was said in 2004, but the key point is that judgement or otherwise, CAS shouldn’t be something that is pushed down by the government – it has to work in the pull approach. More importantly, it shouldn’t leave anyone in any kind of doubt or ambiguities in implementation,” he asserted.
Krishnan sited the clause of the division done in a market between ‘in the city’ and ‘out of city’ as an example on the kind of doubts that can emerge on the CAS scene. He said, “The clause said that CAS would be applicable on C&S households ‘in a city’ and not ‘out of city’. In a city like Mumbai, 70 per cent is ‘in the city’ and 30 per cent, which include areas like Navi Mumbai and Thane, isn’t. Now how does a cable operator function in a situation where he provides signals to households ‘in the city’ and ‘out of the city’? Divide his signal completely? South Delhi can also face issues like these and various others on these lines. These need to be sorted out for a successful rollout of CAS.”
Experts stressed on the need of market forces shaping the implementation of CAS. According to Srivastava, “For advertisers, there would be short term disruption and ratings will go haywire if CAS isn’t implemented properly. But in the long term, this brings additional measurability and accountability.”
Voicing this amongst the broadcasters, Chawla suggested, “The regulator must put a framework in place so that a fair playing ground can be created and then allow market forces to shape the system.” Krishnan presented a similar thought, though in a slightly different manner. He said, “The consumer should be told about CAS – its advantages and disadvantages – so that he can make an informed choice. The government has appointed a regulator, who has worked hard on making CAS successful. What they have to continue doing is have uniform guidelines for all markets and then let the market decide.”
Evidently, the industry hasn’t changed much in what it wants in the last few years since CAS has come on the scene. But Ravi Kiran believed that consumers had, and that was another positive sign for CAS. “More people would now be aware – not that at present this is a core part of their life in any form – but consumers are aware that they have choices in how they can view television and in a situation like this, they are bound to do something different than what they have been doing – in the process changing the face of television,” he pointed out.
Balsara fervently agreed with this. “In the next two to three years, the face of television distribution is going to change significantly. Different distribution mechanisms are surfacing and people are going to opt for them,” he added, and substantiated his point with examples like direct-to-home (DTH) gaining ground and the fact that the platform would see acceleration in penetration once Tata Sky was in the picture too.
He also spoke on Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) becoming a reality. “And sooner than you think,” emphasised Balsara, adding, “In the case of IPTV, one mustn’t forget that organised players like Reliance and AirTel are in the picture and things can materialise much faster, and when that happens, even aspects like the composition of ads can change. IPTV is designed in a way that ads coming in one house can be different from the other and finally advertisers will be paying on the basis of that than just an amount for the connectivity of a channel.”
Experts see the co-existence of multiple platforms benefiting the broadcast system on the whole. “The learning from international markets is that there definitely is space for multiple delivery platforms in India. Cable, DTH and IPTV will play a crucial role in changing the television viewing pattern and indications – whether it is the manner in which DTH is gaining ground, CAS is attracting attention or IPTV itself – are already here and this is closer than we think.”
Ravi Kiran seconded this. He said, “CAS is an easy graduation from cable system, and given that it would be riding on the cable universe itself, it is an alternative to cable. However, other distribution mechanisms like DTH are complementary and hence, can co-exist.”
The ball now is in the government’s court as to how CAS in South Delhi, for starters, shapes us. A major portion of the industry sure is waiting.
Balsara captures it succinctly when he says, “It is about time. I think channels are getting tired of the way cable operators are blackmailing them.”
Delhi High Court orders implementation of CAS; gives Centre four weeks’ time