Cable homes without set-top boxes will miss Kevin Pietersen matching strokes with Sachin Tendulkar if Delhi doesn’t push back the digitisation deadline
Anjali Dutta’s cable operator can’t give her a set-top box and her service provider won’t give her an assurance that her television screen wouldn’t go blank next Thursday.
The north Calcutta homemaker’s predicament sums up the mess that is analogue-to-digital conversion in a city where nobody seems to know what will happen after October 31, the second deadline for cable TV digitisation in the four metros.
The only ones who seem to be benefiting from the uncertainty are cable operators, many of whom are allegedly charging subscribers almost double the normal price of a set-top box by “creating” a shortage.
The Dutta household in Sovabazar, which has several cricket fans eagerly awaiting England’s tour of India starting October 30, is willing to pay a premium for a box but their cable operator says he has run out of stock.
The set-top box, a media player-like device with a tuner that converts cable signals into digital-quality content on a TV screen, costs around Rs 800. In many places across the city, a box is now being sold for up to Rs 1,400.
“I was told in September that the box was priced around Rs 700. By the beginning of this month, the price had risen to Rs 1,000. Now, it is Rs 1,400. I am willing to pay but my cable operator claims he doesn’t have any,” homemaker Anjali said.
Some who were offered boxes by their cable operators earlier but postponed buying them are now panicking at the thought of staring at blank screens if they don’t get one before October 31.
Sources said the multi-system operators (MSO) hadn’t been able to provide adequate number of boxes to their franchisees despite being given ample time. “One MSO procured boxes of poor quality and two others still don’t have enough to supply to their franchisees,” an industry insider said.
According to data released by the information and broadcasting ministry, Calcutta has achieved 81 per cent digitisation. But unofficial sources say not more than 50 per cent of the subscriber base has been covered yet.
While Delhi is officially tied with Calcutta at 81 per cent, Mumbai’s digitisation rate is 99 per cent and Chennai’s is 85 per cent. An unofficial estimate pegs the overall compliance rate at 59 per cent.
So will the Centre push back the deadline again for the metros to achieve 100 per cent digitisation?
“Last time, the deadline (June 30) was postponed 10 days prior to date. Delhi seems more serious about the October 31 deadline because there has been no such indication so far,” industry watcher Mrinal Chatterjee said.
Suresh Sethia, director of Siti Cable, blamed subscribers for the slow pace of digitisation. “We were selling 12,000 boxes a month by mid-June. Now we are selling around 5,000 boxes,” he said.
Some in the industry are hopeful about the deadline being pushed back “at least by a couple of months” because information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni has just been replaced by Manish Tiwari.
“The first meeting of the task force for implementation of the digital access system after the change of guard is scheduled for Monday. The minister’s views would be known tomorrow,” a member of the task force said.
In Delhi and Mumbai, many MSOs have started switching off some categories of pay channels to wean subscribers away from analogue. “But no such step has yet been taken in Calcutta,” said Ashok Mansukani, president of the all-India association of MSOs.
There has been no announcement on packages and rates either.
Have you been overcharged for a box or denied one?