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CAS returns TV remote to viewers

While the system will remove clutter from TV sets by enabling viewers to choose channels, costs will go up.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 12:34 IST

It's an open and shut CASe.

The Conditional Access System for TV viewing that becomes operational in the four metros in a month will return the remote to where it belongs -- in the hands of the viewer.

On the flip side, CAS just might kill the nascent DTH -- direct to home -- service that delivers a better picture and sound but is subject to the vagaries of the weather.

Rather ironically, while CAS will remove the clutter from TV sets as it enables viewers to choose the channels they want to watch, costs could go up.

Sounds confusing? Simply put, this is how the new system, mandated last week by the Delhi High Court for Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, will work:

Presently, cable operators charge Rs 200-350 for providing up to 100 channels that most subscribers do not even watch.

Under CAS, cable operators will provide a set-top box (STB) costing around Rs 3,000 and charge a basic fee of Rs 75 for free-to-air channels like Doordarshan and regional TV channels.

Subscribers will have to shell out an additional Rs 25-30 a month for every pay channel like ESPN-STAR Sport, STAR Movies, Zee, Sony and the like that they want to watch.

This means that subscribing to, say 10 pay channels, will mean forking out Rs 250-Rs.300, plus Rs 75, every month.

K Jayaraman, chief executive officer of Mumbai-based Hathway Cable and Datacom, didn't entirely agree with this.

"The implementation of CAS will mainly benefit customers. If a customer exercises his rights sensibly, he would end up paying much less than what he is paying now," Jayaraman said.

It was on petitions by Hathway and other multi-service operators that the Delhi High Court Friday ordered the implementation of CAS.

The last time the government attempted to do so in 2003 it had hit a major roadblock on the issue of who would pay for the STB.

It was thus implemented only in Chennai.

Reacting to this, Jayaraman said his company would come out with a competitive pricing plan.

"This time, we will enter the CAS regime with an appropriate price plan. Customers will have to pay just Rs 999 upfront as refundable deposit. We will charge rent of one rupee per day on our boxes."

This rental would be over and above subscription charges.

On the concern expressed by some broadcasters about the supply of boxes at such a short notice, the Hathway official said: "The total cable homes in the notified areas of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata is 700,000-800,000."

"The industry has already imported 800,000 boxes despite the fact that 100 per cent of the homes in the notified areas are not likely to go for the CAS system."

Sahib Singh of Rainbow Communications, one of two independent cable operators in south Delhi's Saket area that feeds upwards of 800 homes, said: "CAS will benefit both the viewers and the pay channels."

Presently, pay channels have to take the word of cable operators on their subscribers and this often leads to under reporting so that operators get to keep some of the money that is collected.

Under CAS, the pay channels will be able to directly monitor the STBs from their master control rooms, he added.

Under the new regime, the pay channels have also agreed to a revenue sharing model with operators.

"Whether this is a commission or some other method still needs to be worked out but it will benefit us as it will make the system transparent," Sahib Singh pointed out.

All this streamlining would also cause greater headaches for cable operators, Vicky Chowdhary, who services parts of west Delhi, contended.

"Presently, subscribers get a consolidated bill. Under CAS we will have to keep track of subscribers' additions and subtractions (of channels) and give detailed bills every month," he maintained.

Subscribers have generally welcomed the new system but have a variety of complaints.

"I never watch Doordarshan or the regional channels so why should I have to pay the compulsory Rs 75 every month?" asked Mumbai-based filmmaker Dilshad Pandey.

"I should have the freedom to chose my channels and pay for only these," she maintained.

Even so, she was happy to have "uncluttered" her TV set.

Delhi homemaker Bela Swarup, who has three children all under the age of nine, was happy with CAS for a different reason.

"My kids were constantly fighting over which cartoon channel they wanted to watch. Quite frankly, some of these channels were pretty gruesome and I wasn't always able to stop the children from watching them. Now I have the power to," Swarup asserted.

New Delhi-based travel consultant Atul Seth too was happy with CAS.

"I hardly ever watch TV but I still had to take a cable connection. Now, my bill will go down to Rs 75 a month -- and I'll still be able to watch channels like CNN-IBN which are free-to-air," he said rather smugly.

In all this, spare a thought for DTH, once touted as the next great hope for satellite TV.

Presently, the STAR and Zee stables offer DTH bouquets but these are confined to only their in-house channels.

They cost about Rs 4,000 each for the first year and subsequently Rs 250 a month.

Doordarshan has a free DTH service but this provides only the state broadcasters' channels.

Thus, a STAR DTH subscriber would still have to get a CAS connection for channels like Sony and Discovery.

So, it would make more sense to dump DTH and opt for CAS.