Even as households across the nation, especially ones in the four metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai brace themselves for the impending cable TV transition (read digitization) come July 1, this year, reports about cable operators moving to the court seeking an extension to the aforementioned deadline have been cropping up. A report by The Times of India now confirms that in Chennai, stakeholders, like the government-run Arasu Cable TV Corporation and Sun TV Network's Sumangali Cable Vision are not fully ready to meet the pre-set July 1 deadline. In fact, if this report is anything to go by, then the I&B Ministry, too has hinted that chances are that they may extend the deadline, on a city-to-city basis, if need be. 

To make the switch, viewers would require to get themselves a set-top box installed, and if the figures are to be believed then Chennai and Kolkata are currently far from what will require them to reach the stipulated deadline. Reportedly, in Chennai, only 12.5 percent of the subscribers have set-top boxes. Quoting P Sakilan, the operators' association president, the report adds, “It is highly impossible to launch digital network in Chennai before July.” Sakilan further stated that even if they were to provide the set-top boxes for free to the viewers, it would take four months to import them, test-run them, and deliver it to 40 lakh viewers in Chennai. 

Post June 30th, 2012 it'll all be gone!

Will they miss their deadline?

Sakilan, however also added that the biggest challenge for operators lay in convincing the masses to pay amounts like Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 for the set-top boxes, moreso because of the total 40 lakh viewers in Chennai, roughly 25 lakh belonged to the middle and lower class families, who would find it beyond their means. Cable operators across Mumbai and Delhi, reportedly have moved to court seeking an extension to the deadline, and according to the report – “An Edelweiss report said that Chennai and Kolkata are likely to miss the deadline and that the respective governments have sought for a deadline extension.”

Reportedly, government-run Arasu Cable TV Corporation has asked cable TV operators in Chennai to provide them with an estimate of the number of set-top boxes that would be needed in their respective areas. The report further quoted a government official as saying, “The state will get one lakh STBs from the identified bidder within eight weeks of the award of contract. The rest will be procured from the firm in a phased manner.” The official, reportedly also added that the government operator “has no plan to give STBs free.

Kolkata, too has not fared any better with 90 percent of cable TVs remaining to get digitized, according to a report by The Hindu Business Line. The report further quoted Mr. Swapan Chowdhury, Secretary of Kolkata-based Cable and Broadband Operators' Welfare Association as saying, “Only 5 lakh out of an estimated 40 lakh cable TV users in the city have so far opted for digitised signal (through set-top box).”

Here he adds the insufficient supply of set-top boxes has been coming in the way, despite advance payments by cable operators and multi-system operators. The report, stating Chowdhury's sentiments, added that, “According to him, though it is mandated to complete digitisation according to the TRAI deadline, MSOs are fretful as large chunk of the households are still unaware of a mandatory digitisation.”

Once the uniform roll-out starts taking place, users will not be able to view any of their TV programmes, unless, they've switched to digital signals. Speaking at a forum on ‘Cable Digitization – a positive change for the consumer,’ Mr. K Jayaraman, MD & CEO of Hathway Cable and Datacom Ltd assured viewers across the table of not only the need for Digitization of their good ol’ cable TV, but also how the whole situation is a winning one for all, especially the end user. Jayaraman, in an official statement was quoted as saying, “The overall objective of digitization is to expose viewers to an experience that is imaginative. Digital cable services will invariably give them the opportunity to resolve some of the issues they have faced with legacy analog cable systems. It will also provide a bonanza for consumers in terms of picture quality, access to a wide range of channels and freedom of choice. Customers would certainly benefit given that they would now be able to choose from nearly 500 channels. The only additional investment that they would need to make is buying a set-top-box, the cost of which is already subsidized.

In a report sometime back, it was affirmed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that the June 30th deadline to bring in the first phase of digitization across homes in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai was very much on track. and also ended up revealing that they have ordered for a whopping 10 million set-top boxes to carry out the transition. “We are already in the first phase of digitization which will be beneficial for all stakeholders and we are taking all necessary measures to create awareness with audiences to cooperate with us in meeting the set deadline,” added Jayaraman.

Cable TV digitization in essence puts an end to the rather lengthy run of analog cable in our country, and will set in place a TV viewing experience defined entirely by digital cable. This massive transformation came at the end of what has been an amendment to Section 4A of the Cable Regulation Act, 1995. The amended act now paves the way for the compulsory implementation of mandatory addressable digitization (MAD). The new ruling essentially implies that all cable operators will have to, before their aforementioned deadlines switch the signals that they transmit, to digital, instead of the earlier analog. Those users subscribing to cable operators who do not comply with the new rules (i.e. switching over to digital signals) will not be able to view any of their TV programmes, post the scheduled deadline.

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