CAS is top of the mind for most of the middle class at this instant. With only one metro area notified so far, it shows signs of turning into the sort of political circus that gives everybody nightmares.
This could be the swing issue that lends an unpredictable twist to voting patterns in an election year.
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In the longer term, whatever the government does to resolve this, will set the tone for an industry, which generates somewhere over Rs 8,000 crores (Rs 80 billion) of revenue.
Nobody knows quite how much but it could well be a lot more than that Rs 8,000 crore base-estimate.
There are between 60 million and 110 million cable-watching households and another 100-150 million terrestial TV-watching families who will probably be part of the cable brigade by 2005. The wide variations in estimates are indicative of the confusion.
There are many stakeholders in this game apart from viewers. The channels say that the cable-operators consistently offer huge under-estimates of subscription base.
According to the operators, the channels are heartless entities bent on gouging money. The political establishment has always felt a little upset about ignoring the industry's taxable potential and it would like control over content as well.
Operating parameters for the advertising industry could change drastically with CAS implementation.
If channels are earning substantial subscription revenue, their dependencies change and if viewership patterns are exactly tracked under CAS, channel pricing power also changes.
If CAS is implemented, estimates of subscriber base will converge to a sharper degree and the government might be in a position to pick up meaningful revenues.
The channels would like CAS to be implemented since it would reduce the influence of the middle-man and help channels earn realistic subscription income.
The cable operators see CAS as both a long-term threat and a possible short-term opportunity. While the confusion persists, there is always a chance of windfalls profits through set-top sales and high subscriptions from early bird subscribers.
In the long-term, both opportunities will diminish and in addition, the MSOs will lose some of their monopoly power.
Technologically speaking, a significant chunk of the market might migrate from set-tops to satellite direct-to-home. The economics are interesting -- a set top means an outlay of around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 and possibly, Rs 600-odd per month in subscription fee.
A dish option now costs Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 and it may mean much lower monthly subscriptions for focussed viewers, who avoid paying for a host of channels they don't watch.
If there's serious demand for dishes, prices will drop. Right now, the set-top offers terrible viewing quality and, though that will improve quickly, it creates a demand for dishes.
The problem is the lack of standardised DTH platforms -- many popular channels aren't ready to move to that mode yet.
Consumers are unhappy and the government would hate that dissatisfaction to translate into votes.
But it cannot pullback on CAS implementation, without making channels and cable operators unhappy, who have made investments and plans on the assumption that it will happen. That creates pressure on the government to implement CAS in some form. The format will make a critical difference to revenues for listed channels -- and some of them will be looking to offer DTH services as well.