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Friday, October 26, 2012

Still on analog TV? Get ready for ‘blackout’


Mumbai: This Diwali, get ready for a blackout on your TV screen if you still have not switched over to a digitalized cable system. In the last three days, four channels have disappeared from the TV screens of Kandivli resident Amit Raje and his neighbours. They are not alone; many of the forty lakh TV viewers in the eight lakh homes that subscribe to analog cable TV in the Mumbai region are witnessing a daily loss of one or two channels. 
    This exercise is a voluntary initiative by some broadcasters in the runup to achieve a total 'blackout' of analog signals from November 1 in Mumbai. Local cable operators (LCOs) say around 35% cable television subscribers in the low income group will have to face a total TV blackout from November 1 as a large number of subscribers have not yet switched over to digitization through either set-top boxes (STBs) or direct to home (DTH) connections as mandated by the government. According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry sources, there will be no extension to the November 1 deadline. 
The impact of this decision on subscribers and LCOs is yet to be seen. 
    According to sources, there are around 1.5 to 2 million cable viewers in the Mumbai region (including Thane and Navi Mumbai), of which 50% have analog cable connections, 30% have digital access system and 20% are direct to home (DTH) consumers. There are over 3,000 local cable operators with more than 25 multimedia service operators (MSO) providing 
services in the region. 
    President Ashok Mansukhani of the MSO Alliance confirmed that some broadcasters, with the help of MSOs, were voluntarily withdrawing 
analog signals of certain channels in phases and the complete blackout of analog signals will be achieved from midnight on October 31 according to directives. "This time, the deadline has not been extended," he said. The last deadline of June 30 had been extended to October 30 by the I&B ministry following demands by LCOs. 
    However, Anil Parab, president of 
the cable operators' association, said the LCOs had already requested the state for security cover from November 1 as consumers may not take the 'blackout' well. Parab said there was no transparency on part of the government and MSOs about how much subscribers have to shell out for paid channels and how much will go to LCOs, who have to manage connectivity. 
    "The government should disclose payment schedules to consumers and LCOs and create awareness among subscribers, specially those living in slums, about the advantages of digitization. There is currently a shortage of set-top boxes. These are some of the reasons why around 35-40% subscribers in Mumbai have not yet switched over to the digital system," he said. However, government data says that around 85-90% viewers in Mumbai have already switched over to digital. 

    Abhay Dudhal of the Maharashtra navnirman cable sena said Kolkata and Chennai had also not achieved digitalization targets and hence the deadline should be extended. 
    Jagdish Joshi of the eastern cable operators' welfare association said LCOs are getting such a low share that they won't be able to manage the maintenance and quality of connections. 
    Mansukhani claimed that there was absolutely no shortage of set-top boxes in the market and the government had made the sharing ratio for MSOs and LCOs very clear. "For each Rs 100 bouquet of free-to-air channels, MSOs will get Rs 45 while LCOs will get Rs 55. For paid channels costing minimum Rs 150 a bouquet, LCOs will get 35% of the amount while MSOs will get 65%," said Mansukhani. 

YOUR GUIDE TO PICKING THE BEST DIGITAL TV EXPERIENCE 

What are your choices? 
ANALOG CABLE TV SYSTEM 
A cable is directly attached to your TV and you can watch up to 100 channels. Monthly fee ranges from Rs 150-200. However, there is no interactive system for value-added services 
DIRECT TO HOME (DTH) 
DTH, which uses dish antennas, is facing heat from digital cable service providers. Up to 500 channels are available on DTH and signal quality is good. It offers value-added services and the monthly fee ranges from Rs 200-600 
DIGITAL ACCESS SYSTEM 
Once a set-top box is installed, the choice of channels rises to 1,000. It enables access to valueadded services. Monthly fee ranges from Rs 200-500 

WHY SWITCH TO DIGITAL? 
Switching over to a digital service will mean more channels to choose from, improved clarity, value-added services and less maintenance. Monthly charges will rise, though 

HOW DO YOU EXECUTE THE CONVERSION? 
Before October 31, you have to ask your cable provider to convert the cable connection into a digital one by installing a set-top box, which you will receive in seven days. You can choose your channels, after which your cable operator will activate the set-top box with the help of distributors. For this conversion, you have to fill up an application form and provide an identity proof 

BENEFITS OF DIGITIZATION 
    
Cable operators won't be able to hide subscribers from distributors, so every signal, subscriber and channel will be accounted for 
    Other than creating increased revenue through fees and taxes, digitization promises to bring transparency to the business 
    The government will get 45% taxes per television set in corporation areas, and 30% and 15% respectively in council and rural areas 

HOW DOES MUMBAI FARE ON DIGITAL SCALE? 

Total cable 
connections 
Over 1.5 million 

Of these, analog cable connections 
50% 

Digital Access System connections 
30% 

Direct To Home connections 
20% 

Total local cable operators 
Over 3,000 

Total multimedia service operators 
Over 25 
(Data for Mumbai region, which includes Mumbai, Thane & Navi Mumbai)


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