Dec 6, 2006

Whose 'CAS'e is it anyway?

It no longer hogs the limelight. Its not about an entire city struggling to meet its daily requirement of water. Nor is it a badly damaged arterial road begging for attention. Its a 'minor' issue in the entertainment segment. And the concerned industry have forgotten about it, moving onto more eye catching stories. But chennai continues to take things in its stride, and reacts to the situation with its same time tested sluggishness. And its people continue to watch the free channels being offered, without paying for the set top box or any pay channels. Its been more than 3 years since the Conditional Access System was introduced, and still nothing has changed.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting suddenly became 'concerned' with the people being cheated out of their money, by being demanded excess monthly subscription rates for the cable TV. So it introduced the 'revolutionary' concept of CAS whereby people can 'choose' the channels they want to see, and thus ending up paying lower. But as with most of the Government implementations, things went haywire almost as soon as CAS was introduced.

First, the promised low cost set top boxes never arrived. A huge initial investment for a set top box is beyond the budgetary plans of common households. The I&B ministry overlooked this obvious Indian mentality in their calculations. The existing concept of Multi System Operators (MSOs) did nothing to alleviate the situation. Having monopolized the cable TV distribution over states, MSOs (primarily Sumangali Cable Vision based in Chennai) took it upon themselves to sincerely implement the directive of the I&B ministry, and proceeded to accumulate a huge stockpile of set top boxes. This, no doubt was with an intent to cash in on the monetary advantage offered by CAS. If they hold a market for cable TV, then subscribers would be forced to buy the set top boxes from them at the price they dictate.

The main aim of the Government was to channelize the distribution of TV channels and avoid monopoly by implementing CAS. Their argument was, if people have CAS then they can directly deal with the concerned channels and just pay for the channels they wish to view instead of paying a lumpsome amount every month. Primary flaw in the logic is the people still need to get the signals. Unless they have some direct connection like Dish TV, they will still depend on the MSOs for the connections. So eventually, CAS changed nothing for the people. They still are dependent on the MSOs.

The argument that they need to pay only for the channels 'they wish to view' got a kick in the stomach when the channel providers started offering channels in bouquets. So a person wishing to see ESPN, cant just buy ESPN. He/she has to buy Star Sports also. And Cartoon Network comes with all other Zee channels. So to see a single channel, one ends up buying all other unwanted channels. And here is where we come to the main issue, of which the Government was aware, but refused to recognize. For a long time, channel providers complained to the Govt., that MSOs underdeclare their subscription base, and so they receive much lesser revenue than they should. In a city like chennai, especially in congested areas, there will be lots of tenaments packed into one building. But the building has one house number. MSOs declares this as one house. Channel providers got paid for just one house in this case, and not for all the connections that go into this single building. With the Government turning a blind eye, the channel providers sought to circumvent this problem by increasing the channel prices, to compensate for the reduced subscribers declaration by MSOs.

After the introduction of CAS, this is what the consumers got in the bargain: High priced set top boxes, high priced channels, and channels in bouquets. With all avenues for the consumers being blocked, no wonder that in a city like chennai, barring a few exceptions, majority of the people opted not to go for the set top boxes. Because after an initial investment of a few thousands, if they decide to buy just the channels they wish to see, they will end up paying much more than what they were paying before CAS, and get lesser channels in the bargain. So heres where the deadlock originated. I&B ministry with considerable pressure from the MSOs ( which stockpiled STBs and so wanted them to be sold off) decided that CAS stays, albeit only in the less fortunate chennai. Channel providers offered channels in bouquets and did not reduce the prices for the channels.

So unless these issues are dealt with soon, there will be no respite for the much maligned chennai consumers, whose lukewarm response to the concept of STBs, will remain as a silent protest to the insensible actions of the Government, MSOs and channel providers.


Anonymous,  December 14, 2006 at 2:01:00 AM EST  

Even after so many instructions, directions, press releases, Chennai continues under the mercy of the one and only SCV. They are not giving us corect replies and they do not care to give us the details of the STB offers. hathway has done a good job by putting the information on the net. But who will bell SCV? Is TRAI hearing????

Sriram February 6, 2007 at 9:01:00 AM EST  

hmmm.... polity makes an observer blind... why has it been overlooked that Sun, Vijay and Jaya TVs being paychannels, elsewhere, are free to air only in Chennai?.. with the STB concept in place, and these channels aired for free, dominating the viewership; meaning, the govt and people's attitude have promoted Imperialism (monopoly is too mild a word).

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