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Cable early start to retain screen share

Cable operators across the city are distributing leaflets and putting out advertisements to retain customers ahead of the big switch to digital transmission.

From July 1, the 35 lakh cable and satellite homes in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area will need either a cable set-top box or a DTH one to watch television.

The cable operators want customers to immediately place orders for set-top boxes with them as demand is likely to outstrip supply nearer the deadline.

A lag in supply of cable set-top boxes could lead to an exodus of customers to DTH services. According to an estimate, about 10 lakh subscribers will switch from cable to DTH over the next three months.

According to industry insiders, DTH players like Tata Sky, Dish TV and Airtel Digital TV are counting down to bite into the cable pie during the transition. Multi-system operators (MSOs), like SitiCable, DigiCable, GTPL-KCBP and Manthan, and last-mile operators that together serve cable homes are desperate to hold on to their dominant market position.

At stake is the business from at least 29 lakh homes. Of the remaining six lakh cable and satellite homes in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area, approximately equal numbers have digital cable and DTH set-top boxes. However, about 30 per cent of the DTH homes have allowed their subscriptions to lapse, said an industry insider.

For an MSO, each STB costs around Rs 1,500. At that rate, 29 lakh STBs would cost Rs 435 crore.

“We have been distributing set-top boxes for two years but there were few takers till recently. We have been able to sell set-top boxes to a good percentage of subscribers after people got to know about the deadline,” said Arindam Saha of Sukanta Satellite Service, a last-mile operator that distributes signals from Manthan.

The ads urging customers to go digital are going to intensify by the last week of March, said representatives of the MSOs.

“Cable operators are also distributing pamphlets explaining the benefits of digital cable,” said Sudip Ghosh of Manthan.

A top official of a DTH player said they were sure that cable operators would not be able to match their services. “We are sure that lakhs of cable subscribers would embrace DTH in any case during this phase. So you won’t really find us slashing prices or adopting aggressive marketing tactics,” he said.

“In the seven years that DTH and digital cable have been co-existing in the country, 85 per cent of set-top boxes have been of DTH services. The trend is likely to continue,” said Vikram Mehra of Tata Sky.

Industry insiders pointed out that cable operators had not promoted set-top boxes till now since they would not have been able to under report subscription figures as easily.

An MSO boss accused DTH companies of spreading rumours to the effect that there would be no cable television from July 1. “Our ads are meant to counter such propaganda and explain why digital cable is the better option.”

“The information and broadcasting ministry is doing its part by running TV ads. The News Broadcasters’ Association is also running scrolls on national and local news channels so that everybody gets the correct picture,” said Amit Nag, an official of MSO Digicable.