Harit Nagpal, managing director and chief executive, Tata Sky, and president of the DTH (direct-to-home) Operators Association of India, in an interview with Sayantani Kar, says to avoid last minute surprises, digitisation should be treated as a project. He also talks about how DTH operators have been affected by the delay. Edited excerpts:
Did you have any inkling of the deadline being postponed?
There were zero feelers. Just a few days earlier, I had asked the people concerned. But the date was always held sacrosanct. Where was the need for a deferment just nine days before the deadline, when preparations were on for six months, with a taskforce meeting every fortnight?
Would the new deadline of October 31 be effective?
I will believe in the sanctity of the next date only if the process in the intervening days shows lessons from the past six months have been learnt. There have to be mid-way targets till October 31. If any of the targets is missed, the deadline should automatically be pushed back on that date, instead of the eve of the deadline. That is how projects are managed.
What can be done to avoid another deferment?
We are not saying, ‘Don’t defer if you are not ready’. But please inform us well in time. This would save us costs and humiliation.
The reasons cited for the delay included a delayed tariff order. However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India tariff order, which came two months earlier, should have signalled a delay much earlier than on the eve of the deadline.
Then again, we should not be scared of mayhem as the deadline draws near. Despite heavy advertising, it is natural people would wake up on the last day. We had told the authorities despite trying as hard as they could, they would not be able to meet the last-minute rush for set-top boxes (STBs), logistically. So, those who wait till the last minute should be prepared to stay without a television for about a week, till they are supplied with STBs. None of this is going to change in October. Pushing back the date, anticipating the viewers’ unpreparedness, won’t help. There would be even more people to be covered in the next rounds. Of the total 120 million cable households in India, the first round was supposed to cover five million in the four metros. We should also stop catering to just one group of stakeholders. Despite the legislation in place, multiple system operators said they were not ready, and we, who are regulated, licensed and taxed, would now suffer as a result.
How would the DTH industry be affected?
We are the ones who have been proactively digitising close to a million households a month, while cable operators have managed less than 2.5 million homes in the last six years. Now, I have tonnes of STBs as my warehouse inventory, bought in dollars, and thousands of extra manpower I had hired in the four cities, anticipating demand. The STBs would be lying around and would lock up my cash. I will either have to keep paying the people I had hired, or they would lose their jobs, neither of which is palatable. Between all of us in the industry, we have six to seven thousand additional installation staff, taking wages from our partners.
Once digitisation is over, would DTH players have a price disadvantage compared to digital cable?
None whatsoever. Once local cable operators (LCOs) declare their subscribers and start paying taxes to the government and fees to broadcasters, instead of taking carriage fees from the latter, their P&L (profit and loss statements) would be similar to ours. Also, multiple system operators and LCOs would have to share revenues, which is not the case for our industry. These would reflect in their pricing for the end consumer and bring it on a par with ours.