At least half a dozen foreign satellite firms with over 100 C-band transponders have initiated their talks with domestic media firms which are interested in launching headend-in-the-sky cable distribution platform.
This comes just after Subhash Chandra-promoted Essel Group got permission to launch HITS operation on Asiasat-4, a foreign satellite. Essel Group has booked 10 C-band transponders on Asiasat for HITS rollout that will be able to carry over 150 digital-quality cable channels.
This has propelled a number of foreign satellite firms like Asiasat, Intelsat, NSS-6 and Eutelsat, among others, to initiate high-level talks with several media companies that are looking for launching HITS in near future, a source said.
These satellites operate over the Indian skies and offer all kinds of transponder space for operations like HITS, DTH, and communication needs.
HITS is a satellite-based cable distribution platform through which hundreds of digital quality cable televsion channels can be distributed to the entire country simultaneously. Consumers can subscribe to these channels via a set-top box from their local cable operators.
According to industry estimates, currently there is a shortage of transponder space on the Indian satellites.
Apart from Essel Group, at least six more domestic media firms have shown interest in obtaining and subsequently launching HITS operations. Currently they are waiting for the government policy, industry sources said.
However, Wire & Wireless India Ltd (WWIL, earlier known as Siticable), the cable arm of Essel Group, has the permission to operate HITS as it got the licence over five years ago.
According to sources in WWIL, the trial-run for HITS across major towns will begin in the next few days.
"We have a couple of internal meetings after which HITS will be launched. Except the channels from STAR India and MSM Discovery (Sony bouquet) all other broadcasters have given us their channels for HITS rollout. We expect even STAR and Sony bouquets to come on our platform shortly," a senior executive of Essel Group familiar with the HITS rollout plan told Business Standard.
According to government sources, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has indicated to the media companies that foreign satellites can be used if there is a scarcity of C-band transponders on Indian satellites and the Indian Space Research Organisation has no objections for the commercial use of a foreign satellite.
Simon Twiston Davies, chief executive, CASBAA (the apex body of all Asian cable and media firms), said it was a critical time for the Indian media firms as far as the availability of transponder space on foreign satellite was concerned.
"If the widespread deployment of HITS using non-domestic capacity is significantly delayed for any reason, that capacity could be re-deployed elsewhere and may not be replaced."
The functioning of HITS is similar to that of the direct-to-home (DTH) service but differs in the end-usage and the category of transponders used.
A HITS operator uplinks the television channels to the satellite which is then downloaded by the cable operators and passed on to the consumers over optic fibre via a set-top box.