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TV viewers: Here's a great New Year gift!
Priyanka Joshi in New Delhi
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December 28, 2006

Finally, it's time to say goodbye to your local cable operator as CAS makes its entry into over 2.5 million Indian homes in January 2007.

The sleepy looking cable guy you are so used to dealing with every month might just become a thing from the past in 2007. With Conditional Access System (CAS) ready to take off in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata from January 1, 2007, almost 2.5 million cable television viewers can look forward to having a customised bouquet of channels, and paying for only those channels they would like to watch - without having to deal with the cable fellas.

These three cities make 15 per cent of an estimated 65 million cable homes in India, the world's third-biggest cable television market. The basic freedom that a set-top box (STB) gives is the choice to pick and choose channels and vendors from whom you wish to buy entertainment services.

Currently, there is no channel segregation and subscribers pay a blanket rate for the entire cable service, which includes channels that are never viewed by an individual subscriber. Under CAS, subscribers will pay Rs 77 for the 32 free-to-air (FTA) channels, in addition to Rs 999 or Rs 250 (refundable security deposit) for the STB, which is leased to the user.

Also, they would be paying a monthly rental of Rs 30-45, along with Rs 5 for every pay channel they opt for. The tough climb for the cable operators and multiple system operators (MSOs) will be to cope with a new business system. And this includes issues like who will provide after sales service for leased STBs, who supports the services or what kind of value added services will be bundled along with STBs.

"Cable operators in effect become redundant and, above all, they can no longer understate the real number of subscribers and stash away profit by saving on entertainment tax payments to government," point out DTH players.
Additionally, the cable players and MSOs lack a corporate entity that would help them with investments in the CAS areas. "The cable operators have a very restricted market to operate in. DTH, on the other hand, is backed by bigger players who can afford to cut prices and yet stay afloat," reason DTH players.

So, where do the DTH operators cash in? Tata Sky and Dish TV are banking on the fact that customers would eventually demand premium channels, which will include focused news, entertainment, sports, music channels and even niche channels like nature, health and fashion.

"For instance, an international channel freak would want a slew of channels from across the globe or a foreign language learner may ask for Chinese, German or French channels. In that case, we are ready to give customers what they want," says Arun Kapoor, CEO, Dish TV.

So, would it be correct to say that value added services are the key? "They could be, but along with a host of after sales service options, flexibility in obtaining STBs for multiple television sets in a household and other interactive services," he adds.

Vikram Mehra, head (consumer marketing), Tata Sky, is quite upbeat about the new pricing model introduced by Tata Sky. He says, "Free subscription for the next six months will include all 103 channels along with interactive services like Actve Wizkids, Actve Sports, Actve Star News, Actve Games, Actve Khabar that are being offered by Tata Sky."
The offer is valid for up to four televisions in a household. Mehra calculates that consumers could avail between a saving of Rs 1,800 (for one TV home) to Rs 3,600 (for a four TV home).

Tata Sky and Dish TV have undertaken the task to educate the consumers with aggressive marketing campaigns, besides slashing the price tags in CAS areas. For the 20,000 cable operators who have survived until now by under-declaring their subscriber numbers, charging random tariffs and sometimes giving a cold shoulder to certain broadcasters, it is a wake up call to get their act together.

The DTH players agree that almost 70 per cent of the 2.5 million cable subscribers in the CAS areas are still groping in the dark. "It has not struck them that their television sets will undergo a change from December 31, 2006 midnight," says Kapoor. So watch out!

Demystifying CAS

What is CAS?
Conditional Access System is a digital mode of transmitting television channels through a set-top box (STB). Viewers require a STB to receive and decrypt the transmitted signals with which one can watch pay channels. Thirty-two free-to-air channels, like Doordarshan, can still be viewed without an STB.

Where do DTH services fit in?
Direct-To-Home television (DTH) is receiving satellite programmes with a personal dish in an individual home. With a bouquet of more than 100 channels, the DTH players also offer a host of interactive services like on-demand movies, games, electronic programming guides with multi-language feeds.

What's the difference?
DTH does not compete with CAS. Cable and DTH are two methods of delivering content and CAS is integral to both when it comes to delivering pay channels. Besides, the monthly variation in subscription cost for DTH and CAS on cable, the channels delivered are more or less the same. It is the interactive services that put DTH a notch higher.

How much does it cost and what does it deliver?
: Rs 999 (or Rs 250) as security deposit for STB. Also, a monthly payment of Rs 77 for 32 free-to-air channels + Rs 5 for every pay channel (taxes extra)

Dish TV: Rs 240 (taxes extra) for 125 channels (which includes 93 paid and 32 FTA channels) or Rs 210 (taxes extra) for 85 channels (which includes 53 paid and 32 FTA channels); one time cost of STB is Rs 1,300 and Rs 200 as installation charges.

Tata Sky: No monthly rentals on channel bouquets (if booked between December 28, 2006 and January 10, 2007) for the next six months; one time cost of the STB is Rs 2,999 along with Rs 1,000 as installation charges.

(This DTH pricing is for CAS areas only!)

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