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Interview: Anuj Gandhi, Group CEO, IndiaCast

“I don’t think TDSAT order to resume the placement fees is going to make a big difference. However, the decision will effect smaller channels”

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | October 23, 2102

Anuj Gandhi

We have been hearing the points of view from every stakeholder on digitisation except distributors who are actually the bridge between broadcasters and cable operators. Now that the digitisation deadline is almost here, what major challenges do you foresee?

Challenges for the aggregators like us remain the same as it was in analogue. We have to ensure the carriage, right placement and right packages of the channel.

What’s your take on the recent judgment passed by TDSAT that sets aside restrictions put on MSOs by the Telecom Regulatory Authority on placement fee, number of channels and carriage fee?

TDSAT has compared cable to DTH and said that if there is no restriction on carriage and placement fees on DTH, then there is no reason for it to be there on cable. In my view, since there is no regulation on placement fees, it will be as per the negotiation between operators and broadcasters. However, the bundling of all channels from the same genre will ensure that the placement fees are not as high as earlier. Also, as DAS does not have the demand and supply problem of bandwidth, I don’t think the placement fees is going to make a big difference. However, I think the decision may bring more challenges for the smaller channels which are not a part of aggregators as the placement and carriage fees for them can go anywhere.

What are your concerns about the packages being offered by cable operators? Are you satisfied with the tier options created by them?

I’m largely satisfied with the packages being offered though I think some of them could have been better. Clearly my interest remains in packages which drive the ARPU up.

As a distributor, what are your observations on the preparations to meet the October 31 deadline? Do you see any difference in operators’ approach as the deadline comes closer?

Now that everyone has a clear picture of DAS happening, every party is working to ensure the smooth transition. Operators are busy installing STBs and deals are happening smoothly. The whole industry is helping each other to meet targets.

How do you defend the charges labeled by operators that major distributors are not working in their interests and exploiting the situation?

If you take a look at the number of deals signed between every major aggregator and every major MSO in the last 40 days or so, you will find that such charges don’t exist on ground. If there would have been any conflict, no deal would have been done. We have completed 70 per cent deals and will close the rest before the deadline.

Do you agree with the government’s claim that 87 per cent digitisation has been achieved?

Government claims this data as reported by the MSOs and LCOs. The gap has to be kept in mind that there are a lot of second and third TV homes and that number is not known by operators in most cases. Such numbers will come later and that may be huge.

What do you think will be the major changes after completion of the first phase of digitisation? Will a smooth transition help make the second phase of digitisation easier?

We need to worry about how the cash flow will be managed post digitisation. Till now the cash flow was dependent upon lumpsum deals with LCOs. Now the money charged from consumers has to flow back to MSOs and it may take more than six months to make everything work properly. Finally, we need to start focusing on the second phase and the challenges will remain the same. However, accepting DAS as a reality will make the process smoother.

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