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Slow digitisation progress in Chennai leaves b'casters despondent

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Slow digitisation progress in Chennai leaves b'casters despondent

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had convened a meeting of broadcasters, MSOs and cable operator associations of Chennai on December 9, 2013, and had expressed concern and disappointment over slow DAS implementation in Chennai. It published its concern in a circular to the press the following day. The regulator in the circular stated, “TRAI expresses serious concerns over tardy implementation of digital addressable cable TV systems in Chennai; direct broadcasters, LCOs, and MSOs to take immediate action or face consequences”.

National MSOs and various broadcasters have regularly been vocal about the operating conditions of the distribution market in Chennai. The Chennai distribution market is dominated by two MSOs: Sumangali cable (Owned by SUN TV) and ARASU cable (Government-owned). Other MSOs such as JAK, TACTV, Akash, etc. exist but the market is dominantly held by the former two.

Broadcasters we spoke to have shared mixed responses over the prevailing conditions. Some are cautiously optimistic while others are glum about the future of digitisation in Chennai. But at a general pace, all of them are of the opinion that the contemporary distribution model in Chennai needs a quick overhaul as it should neither be controlled by the Government nor a broadcaster.

A senior broadcaster operating in the southern market said, “We are stuck between the devil and the deep sea. If we criticise a policy, the Government of the day goes against us or if we perform well, the broadcaster withdraws or alters our position. We have almost become helpless in certain situations. I am happy with the TRAI notification, but I am sure that digitisation will take many years to materialise in Chennai. Nobody is willing to leave his existing share.”

Another broadcaster operating in the four southern states viz: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, said, “The difference between the GRPs of SUN TV in Tamil Nadu and the second channel is of almost 1000 GRPs. In no other market is there such a huge difference. The broadcaster/Government owns almost the entire distribution network in Tamil Nadu. How do you think other broadcasters could benefit in this environment? Carriage fee is still very high for us.”

Another broadcaster mentioned, “Cable TV industry is in a state of turmoil locally. The top two MSOs command a bulk of territory. There is no level playing field for the players operating. This is likely to intensify as the elections approach. I am sure things will remain the same, at least till the next general elections in 2014.”

According to the analysts, digitisation in Chennai is at a very nascent stage. Unlike other metros, the political nexus and their control over the distribution network has resulted in crony capitalism and the favours are with only a few players.

As per the TRAI circular dated December 1, TV channels are still being transmitted / retransmitted in analog mode/ unencrypted mode in the metropolitan area of Chennai. Chennai is among the key metro markets in India and ideally as per the digitisation deadline, should have matched Delhi and Mumbai and Kolkata, which are largely digitised.

It is also interesting to note that Hathway Cable, once a market leader in Chennai, is no more operational in that market. Analysts and observers we spoke to said that since the distribution network in Chennai is almost Government-owned and the grass root nexus is very biased, it would be a tedious job for the regulator to execute digitisation in the southern market.

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