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CAS ties viewers in knots

New Delhi, June 24: Even as television channels, politicians and the media whip up a storm over the conditional access system, the average cable consumer comes across as unsure of what the brouhaha is all about.

A study conducted by the Delhi-based Cybermedia Research said 40 per cent of the respondents were not aware of the set-top box technology that will supposedly revolutionise television viewing in the four metros from July 15. About 78 per cent were not sure how effective the set-top boxes would be.

The set-top boxes will allow viewers to pay only for the channels they want to watch. It will also enable them to choose the channels they want to see instead of being stuck with the melange that local operators offer. But the government’s July 14 deadline for the metros and the fact that the boxes do not come cheap — between Rs 3,000 and 5,000 — have led to opponents labelling it as anti-consumer.

A large chunk of TV viewers, including those from cable-connected and educated families, are yet to form an opinion as their ideas of the system and the set-top box are fuzzy.

Media experts believe the system needs to be demystified and its purpose and functions clarified to the masses. This will help sell the concept of set-top boxes among viewers. Some set-top box manufacturers are already working on schemes to finance them at the rate of Re 1 per day over a few years.

The Cybermedia Research dipstick survey was conducted in April-May 2003, targeting 406 randomly selected socio-economic class A and B households. The chief wage earners and housewives were the main respondents.

Awareness was higher among Class A respondents with 60 per cent of the chief wage earners and housewives saying they knew about the new system. But only 22 per cent were aware of terms like CAS and set-top box.

A large chunk of the respondents perceived the current rent — on an average about Rs 233 — as expensive.

The government wants the multi-system cable operators to roll out the system at a rate of about Rs 200, but the proposals that have come in are yet to make it clear how much viewers would have to pay after the system came into force. The majority of the surveyed group indicated a preference for subscribing to about five to seven pay channels.

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