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Delhi in a huddle on TV box

New Delhi, June 3: Huddle after huddle from the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road to the corridors of the information and broadcasting ministry in Shastri Bhavan point to the clout that KKusum, Kutumb and such other soap operas on the telly have over the government.

The huddles have a single-point agenda how to ensure there is no backlash if the even tenor of television viewing that cable watchers have got used to is disrupted by the implementation of the conditional access system. The huddles have been prompted by intense lobbying for and against CAS by broadcasters, operators and advertisers.

And despite the meetings, denials and many clarifications, the situation over CAS that can put a set-top box between the viewer and the television continues to be status quo ante. CAS will roll out on July 14, as things stand now and as it has been known for the last six months.

The government now says much more than 30 free-to-air channels can be beamed by operators. However, information and broadcasting minister R.S. Prasad did not say if the government will order them to do so.

First, the BJP headquarters: Representatives from NDTV, Zee and Aaj Tak met party president M. Venkaiah Naidu. The deliberations were close-door, but it was clear that the broadcasters wanted Naidu to use his office to ensure that once the CAS regime rolls out from July 14, there is no drop in viewership. That would be bad for the advertisement revenues they rake in.

Second, also at the BJP headquarters: Naidu summoned Prasad. Over the past week, Prasad has been summoned by the Prime Minister and his deputy. All have advised him to ensure that CAS is consumer friendly. To help him, the finance ministry has slashed import duty on set-top boxes till July 31.

Now, Prasad says it is possible for the cable operators to show much more than the 30 free-to-air channels that have been mandated in a government notification. The notification of May 7 says that at least 30 free-to-air channels will be relayed by cable operators for not more than Rs 72 plus taxes.

Sources in the BJP say advertisers have threatened to reorient their media planning if CAS leads to a drop in viewership. I have told the minister to make it as people friendly as possible, Naidu said. Prasad says that despite the fact that viewers will have to pay for set-top boxes, cable bills will not go up.

Third, Shastri Bhavan: A regular Tuesday meeting of the task force monitoring the implementation of CAS is converted into another debating forum. There is another meeting that merges with it this is of a publicity committee whose task it is to educate the viewer.

Representatives of Hathway, MSOs, Incable, RPG Net, Cable Operators Federation met additional secretary Vijay Singh. He says the ministry has written to broadcasters to announce the rates for each of their pay channels by June 10. Prasad says the broadcasters have time till June 15 to do so. The operators also met Prasad.

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