The cable operator’s gain has become the direct-to-home (DTH) service provider’s pain after Delhi decided to defer the deadline for digitisation of satellite television signals.
What was to be a windfall for the DTH players could now be a burden for those who had increased manpower and stock in anticipation of a spurt in sales ahead of the original June 30 deadline for the phase-out of analogue cable television.
Cable operators, on the other hand, now have time until October 31 to arrange for enough set-top boxes to retain their subscribers. “Pressure had been mounting on the information and broadcasting ministry from DTH companies to stick to the June 30 deadline. They had much at stake and had stocked up on set-top boxes to go for the kill as the deadline approached. In contrast, the multi-system operators still don’t have enough boxes to cater to every subscriber who wants one,” industry expert Mrinal Chatterjee told Metro on Thursday.
It is estimated that the four metros have around two crore cable homes, of which just about 40 lakh have switched from analogue to digital.
The Bengal government had been pushing for a postponement since April. Urban development minister Firhad Hakim was the first to raise the demand in Delhi, saying cable operators in Calcutta weren’t equipped to make the transition by June 30.
Harit Nagpal, the president of the DTH Operators’ Association of India, said the threat of televisions going blank in the time of sports events like the ongoing Euro 2012 and the Olympics would have pushed a chunk of cable subscribers towards DTH. “The DTH players together were expecting to add 50 lakh to their numbers.”
The DTH industry had also gone on a recruitment spree, based on business projections. “Around 8,000 people were recruited and trained over the past two months. Now we don’t know what to do with them. Many could lose their jobs,” Nagpal warned.
Shashi Arora, CEO of Airtel Digital TV, feared “financial strain on the DTH industry as a whole” because of additional inventory costs and investment in infrastructure without commensurate returns.
“I think it is fair to say that those in the industry who took the deadline seriously suffered and those who didn’t prospered. The (I&B) ministry in any case should not wait till the last moment to push back the deadline if they have to again,” said the CEO of another DTH company.
Representatives of the MSOs played down the boon-and-bane theory. “Those who were planning to shift to DTH have done so already. Those who haven’t were always determined to stick with cable,” said Sushil Sethia of Siti Cable.