Sisir Pillai, Chief Strategy Officer, DigiCable has been associated with the company for close to five years now and has played an active role in spearheading and transforming it into one of the leading MSOs in the country.
In conversation with exchange4media, Pillai speaks about the challenges and opportunities MSOs and LCOs are facing in the second phase of cable TV digitization.
What are your expectations from DAS Phase II and what are the roadblocks that you are anticipating?
Very clearly, the challenges are immense. In the first phase, the market has not gone digital the way it should have. But it was easier to implement the digital addressable system (DAS) in the metros. Audiences in the metros were aware about digital signals, installation of set top boxes (STBs), billing and so on. But in most of the 38 cities that will be covered in the second phase, the challenges are much more – they don’t have head offices and quality technicians. And I don’t know how we are going to meet the demand for STBs in the 100 days left for the deadline.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has taken the initiative to curb cable monopolies with the help of TRAI. What is your opinion on this?
Monopoly is not an acceptable thing anywhere in the world in any category. They should have been done it much earlier. It’s a big problem of broadcasters not giving content to MSOs and LCOs because there are vertical integration and there are monopolies. In such a scenario today if I have to go in certain states and I want to start seeding boxes, I can’t because broadcasters don’t give content at all. We are the distributers of content to the subscribers, and if we don’t get content then there is no use of going at all as there will be no business. There are other platforms such as HITS that we are looking up to which can help us directly address any part of the country.
This monopoly thing affects the business of MSO and LCOS to a great extent.
How does cable digitisation improve competence of DTH and cable TV channels?
Both the platforms have got their own strengths. There should be competition in the market and it will lead us to grow in the market. For example, if we are showing 500 channels, then DTH will be liable to telecast all the channels.
Scarcity of set top boxes has been an issue of concern in the digitisation process. What steps you are taking to fulfill the demand for STBs?
This is a big challenge that we are trying to address. We are also in talks with banks and other investors to help finance the process. Somebody has to take the lead. India doesn’t have the infrastructure to manufacture STBs and hence we have to import them. I think the government should also ensure production of the boxes first and then go ahead with the digitisation. We can’t even predict the number of set top boxes that we will need in the second phase. We are spending about Rs 300 crore on STBs alone to cater to almost 2 million customers.
Do you think the March 31 deadline for second phase of digitisation will be met?
The way the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as well as regulators are tracking the proceedings, the deadline for Phase II could be met. However, it also depends on the timely availability of set top boxes.