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Digitisation deadline flip-flop: One man’s meat is another’s poison!

The extension of the deadline has brought different reactions from various stakeholders: broadcasters, set-top box providers, MSOs and LCOs, and those at the frontline of digital distribution

Ananya Saha | Delhi | June 25, 2012

On June 20, Ministry of the Information and Broadcasting (MIB) pushed back the June 30 deadline to October 31, 2012 for a complete switchover of cable TV to the digital platform in the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. The ministry, in a statement last week, said the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued its Regulations on Tariff & Interconnection only on April 30, 2012, instead of in January. Besides, the Quality of Service Regulations and the Consumer Complaint Redressal Regulations were issued on May 14, 2012. Hence, the decision to postpone the switchover deadline.

“Both these orders of TRAI have not yet been substantially implemented. As a result of this, the installation of set-top boxes has not picked up necessary pace for the completion of the process of digitisation," said the MIB communiquĂ©.

The move has brought different reactions from various stakeholders: broadcasters, set-top box providers, and the MSOs and LCOs. Industry veterans like Roop Sharma, President, COFI, think that the new deadline would do no good unless it is extended till the end of the year. She said, “It was a notification from government regarding digitisation. The government should have made efforts to educate consumers about STBs. There is still hardly any awareness. Cable is anyway the poor-man’s choice. Has the government made efforts to educate the poor? No.”

Sharma insisted that at the ground level it takes more than a day to integrate each STB with the system. “With low awareness, how does the government expect us to complete digitisation process?” she asked.

Reflecting the deep disappointment of those who had been banking heavily on digitisation and had made investments to meet the June 30 deadline, Harit Nagpal, MD & CEO, Tata Sky, said, “Sad! If we can't get a legislation implemented, why do we get upset when we can't get them past Parliament? We were all prepared with set-top boxes and extra manpower to meet the deadline. We invested a lot to meet the demand. The extension will cost us a lot. What will the government and other stakeholders do in the next four months that we didn't in the last six months to ensure that we do not miss the new digitisation date?”

Nagpal further said, “Does the government have a plan or it is an arbitrary postponement of the date? To me, it looks arbitrary. October 31 is the time closer to which we have big festivals like Diwali. Around that time, most of the workers and ground staff go on long leave. There will certainly be a huge shortage of manpower around the new deadline. More importantly, that is the time when broadcasters get high ad volumes due to the festivals and they will prefer not to disturb the inflow, and hence, reluctant to meet the deadline.”

The broadcaster community itself is divided over the extension of the deadline. Jawahar Goel, President of Indian Broadcasters Federation (IBF) and MD of Dish TV, felt that there was hardly any option but to adhere to what the government decides, and believed that the government had done a good thing under the given circumstances.

Sunil Lulla, MD and CEO of Times Television Network, said, “It’s a huge disappointment to learn of the change of date (of the deadline). This was a consumer and citizen driven charter by the government and enacted via law. The government could have been significantly tighter in ensuring all stakeholders worked to implement the date.”

Lulla added, “We are now in a 'blame game'. It is very crucial that there is no slippage now. Consumers lose on an opportunity to experience television with better picture, enhanced sound and more choice. And the government loses taxes, via multiple streams. The broadcast industry continues to bleed and lose money. MSOs and LCOs lose valuable time in developing their industry. It's not about 90 days; it’s about the multiple losses which are now further taking effect."

Taking an altogether different stand, K Jayaraman, MD & CEO of Hathway Cable and Datacom Limited, said, “We support the I&B ministry’s decision to modify the deadline for a complete switchover to October 31 for all the four metro keeping in mind public interest as well as smoother transition. As there is no alternative but to switch over to digital which has been committed in writing by all the stakeholders and which we’ve been prepared for, we look forward to now providing better viewing quality and HD offerings to our viewers and bag more customers.”

“We are confident that digitalisation will benefit our viewers with a wider choice of channels and better quality while bringing in transparency and accountability in the industry,” Jayaraman added.

But for Salil Kapoor, COO, Dish TV, it is business as usual as he felt that the extension would not have much impact.

Anil Malhotra COO, Siti Cable, agreed and said, “The ministry was taking stock of STBs installed almost every day. They reached the conclusion after realising that the deadline could not have been met. The extension is only a part of the process.”

Ananya@BestMediaInfo.com

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