The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), a representative body of television channels, on Thursday held a meeting to express disappointment at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s decision postponing the digitisation of cable television services in the four metros till October.
“IBF is not very happy with the extension. But since it has been taken, and the government has said there would be no further extensions, we will not take any action immediately,” said an IBF official who attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Thursday clarified the rate order and regulations for the digital addressable cable TV systems should come into effect before the deadline prescribed by the ministry.
On Wednesday, the ministry had postponed the deadline for switching from analogue cable TV networks to digital addressable systems for cable TV services in Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata, despite earlier ruling out extending the June 30 deadline. The ministry claimed installation of set-top boxes had not picked up the “necessary pace” for the transition.
“We are very disappointed with the change in the date. The government must now ensure there is no further slippage and no further extension of the deadline,” said Narayan Rao, president, News Broad-casters Association.
Direct-to-home (DTH) service providers, too, said they were disappointed with the extension, as they had already started investing in additional boxes and lining up major advertising and awareness campaigns across various media platforms. “The extension will put strain on the financial health of the DTH industry, owing to additional inventory carrying costs and the investment in infrastructure the industry would now have to incur,” said Shashi Arora, chief executive, Airtel digital TV.
In May, Tata Sky had launched a major marketing campaign, ‘Drop cable, upgrade to Tata Sky’, highlighting the cut-throat rivalry between DTH players and cable operators. Media analysts say advertising inventory worth Rs 300-Rs 350 crore has been spent in airing awareness campaigns on digitisation and the scheduled date of its implementation.
Justifying its decision, the ministry, in a statement on Wednesday, said Trai had issued the regulations on rates and interconnection only on April 30, instead of January. The quality of service regulations and the consumer complaint redressal regulations were issued on May 14. “Both these Trai orders have not yet been substantially implemented. As a result, the installation of set-top boxes has not picked up the necessary pace for the completion of the process of digitisation,” it said.
Sources said the ministry was in regular touch with state governments to check ground realities. Tamil Nadu has sought six months to implement digitisation. West Bengal, too, said it needed more time.
Only 25 per cent of digital set-top boxes have been seeded in the four metros. According to industry estimates, of the 10 million set-top boxes required in the metros, only about three million have been deployed. The number of set-top boxes installed in Mumbai was the highest among the four metros.
Multi-system operators (MSOs) have welcomed the move. “This is a welcome step. The earlier deadline was impractical, as it was not possible to cover 10 million households in just six weeks,” said Ashok Mansukhani, president, MSO Alliance.
Media Partners Asia, a Singapore-based consulting firm, estimates the cost of digitising all television homes in the country would be about Rs 40,000 crore, and the first, four-metro phase would need Rs 1,500 crore. Most cable companies have enough cash on their books, or are capable of raising it, at least to fund the first phase.
Earlier, the government had set a target of digitising all cable services in the country by December 2014.