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CAS hook-up moves to billing stage

Cable networks are now moving to get consumers to choose the bouquets of channels they want to watch, reports Saurabh Turakhia.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2007 20:01 IST

Having hooked consumers in CAS areas onto the set top box (STB) with an initial free service, the cable networks are now moving to get them to choose the bouquets of channels they want to watch. After all that is the only way cable networks can start the CAS billing process.

Once the crunch came, CAS seems to have caught on and the several rounds of live cricket seem to have helped 'seeding' of boxes. In fact, consumer complaints have poured in claiming that waiting time for installing a box could be as much as 10 days.

"Hathway has been able to deploy close to 75,000 set top installations by now in the CAS notified areas," said Rohinton Dadyburjor, GM, Operations, Hathway Cable. WWIL has reportedly deployed 200,000 digital set-top boxes in the three metros of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The total demand for CAS notified areas in Mumbai is estimated around 3.5 lakhs of which, the industry has been able to deploy close to 1.5 lakh boxes.

A Hathway spokesperson added that for the next two months, there is a possibility to install around 1 lakh set top boxes per month by the company in Mumbai.

Currently, the cable networks are focusing on pushing customers to make their channel choices. According to industry sources, the customers will now be billed for services provided under CAS in January. The customers seem to be passive and hence some players like Incablenet have gone ahead and knocked down Zee channels in order to initiate some action from the customers.

Hathway is also planning to do the same. Early observations also point to general entertainment, movie and sports channels being preferred over other genres.

TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) meanwhile has put out a mandate to get detailed information on the number of subscribers as well as the patters of consumer choice of channels, which will help further transparency. In the shifting business plans of channels, some turned from Pay to free-to-air channels like 'Times Now' and Zoom to increase viewership. Others, like the Eenadu channels are considering converting from free to pay channels.

According to Dadyburjor, the system is now gaining clarity. It will now be easier for media planners to choose their platforms as the exact number of subscribers would be available.

Earlier the practice of under-quoting the real number of cable connections had created multiple problems. 

Jagjit Singh Kohli, MD, WWIL, estimated that the industry will need at least 6 million set-top boxes for complete rollout in the three metros. This will be a tall order as the inventory by the MSOs of STBs is negligible. However, CAS' implementation in phases may make it easier to place orders with foreign manufacturers as per demand.

DTH players too have not been doing too badly either. When contacted, sources close to Tata Sky informed that they had gained around 3 lakh subscribers by the end of December 2006. Competitor DishTV, on the other hand, with first mover advantage, claims to have enrolled two million subscribers so far.