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Cable Industry Cautious On Digitalisation In A Hurry

CASBAA’s “Addressable India 2010” urges the government to move rapidly towards the digitalisation of pay-TV industry.

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | December 13, 2010

CASBAA in association with major Indian cable and television industry bodies organized a high level meeting on 9th December in Delhi - Addressable India 2010 that looked into the future of digitalisation in India. The India government, led by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has proposed a definitive push towards cable TV digitalization meaning tremendous growth opportunities for the Indian pay-TV content and distribution markets.

Providing a unique industry platform for discussion and networking as digitalisation gains momentum in India, CASBAA’s Addressable India 2010 seminar brought together over 130 speakers, delegates and press in a lively exchange of viewpoints and ideas about the future of the broadcast industry in India.

Among the influential speakers attending Addressable India 2010 were Raghu Menon, Secretary, MIB; J S Sharma, Chairman, TRAI; Venkat Reddy, Senior Director, Product Management, Oracle Communications; Uday Shankar, President, IBF and CEO, STAR India; Roop Sharma, President, COFI; Ashok Mansukhani, President, MSO Alliance; and many others.

Developments from this forum saw Industry leaders at CASBAA’s “Addressable India 2010” seminar uniting to urge the government to move rapidly towards the addressable digitalisation of India’s pay-TV industry. Spearheaded by the IBF, MSO Alliance, NBA, DTH Association of India, IPTV India Forum, COFI and CASBAA, the seven leading pay-TV Associations, representing 90% of India’s television market, agreed on the need to create an environment that will stimulate investment -- beneficial not only for industry stakeholders but for the government and consumers as well.

“This was the first time the industry has genuinely come together on a public platform and openly debated the most urgent issues facing our industry,” said Simon Twiston Davies, CEO of CASBAA.

J S Sarma, Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, followed by Raghu Menon, the Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting opened the conference.

Industry leaders have pronounced differences in views in particular about revenue flows. Sarma observed that the TRAI had noticed that each level of the industry (content suppliers, MSOs, last-mile operators) believed it was being “robbed of its fair share,” and suggested that transparency brought by digitalisation would help reconcile what he called “competing and therefore conflicting interests.”

Meanwhile, Raghu Menon, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, was more cautious. He observed that the Government was planning to complete digitalisation of the Prasar Bharati terrestrial network by 2017 and suggested that might be a more reasonable timeframe for full cable digitalisation as well.  “This is a complex exercise and we need to be practical,” said Menon who added that his Ministry would consider other reforms, including pressing for changes in foreign investment caps, as proposed by TRAI.

“The most encouraging aspect of the meeting was the degree of consensus. Speakers from all sectors concurred that full digitalisation needs to come to India -- and quickly. Where there is a real divergence of views is on the role of government – whether it needs to provide a guiding hand, or just reduce controls and get out of the way,” said Twiston Davies.

All participants agreed that addressable digitalisation, including broadband deployments, will enhance transparency, ensuring revenue flows, providing the basis for greater consumer choice, increasing the attractiveness of television to advertisers, and enhancing the government’s ability to collect taxes.

TRAI Chairman Sarma declared himself to be “a man in a hurry” and urged action in a “not very long” timeframe.  “If we decide what is good for us,” said Sarma, “we should do it.”

He also announced a proposed government investment in a Rps 60,000 crore (US$13.3 billion) nationwide fiber optic network, which could provide a backbone for digitalisation by 2013.  Noting that the private sector should continue to provide “last-mile” consumer service, he called for tax incentives to help the industry make the huge investments necessary.

Panel discussions were lively, with speakers suggesting measures to drive urgently needed investment in digital communications infrastructure that should include the rationalization of business-negative entertainment and import taxes and licensing fees. The participants also called on the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and Ministry of Finance to play a pro-active role in reducing the financial burden on the industry. Several urged government to reduce its regulatory controls and “let consumers decide” now that growth of the DTH industry had brought real competition to the vast majority of Indian cable TV homes.

Maintenance of rigid price controls and “commodity” content rules remain significant hurdles to industry development,” said Twiston Davies of CASBAA.

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