Analogue and digital signals beamed happily together in Calcutta on a day Mumbai made a complete switch to the more advanced technology and Delhi clocked at least 80 per cent success.
Set-top box or no set-top box, almost all the channels were on air in Calcutta because cable operators had allegedly perfected the art of pirating signals.
The Mamata Banerjee government was the only one claiming credit for the TV not going blank. “The deadline is over but digital and analogue signals are both available in Calcutta just as we had said,” a beaming Firhad Hakim, the minister for urban development, said at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday. He lauded the cable service providers “for their cooperation”.
The multi-system operators would not take the credit. They passed the beam baton to the broadcasters and the broadcasters passed it right back. The broadcasters said they had stopped beaming analogue signals to Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai but the MSOs in Calcutta were converting their digital signals into analogue.
No one will officially own up to the steady stream of analogue signals to TV sets even after the deadline set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had passed.
According to realistic estimates, only around 38 per cent connections have been digitised in Calcutta. The official figure is 81 per cent, but that is because it does not count the lakhs of undeclared cable connections.
In Delhi, the official compliance figure is 94 per cent and the unofficial estimate 80. In Mumbai, it is 100 per cent. Bombay High Court had yesterday said: “The Union government has provided sufficient time for compliance of the order. A certain degree of hardship and inconvenience is inevitable when putting any such deadline in place.”
Didi’s Calcutta doesn’t care about such deadlines. One industry source said the demand for set-top boxes stagnated after the chief minister’s Tuesday pledge to stall the switch.
Only a handful of channels — ABP Ananda, NDTV 24x7, NDTV Profit, Sony Six, Times Now, Movies Now, Zoom, AXN, Travel and Living among them — went off air on Thursday morning. Many of them had made a comeback by evening as the cable operators selectively leaked signals depending on popular demand.
The MSOs claimed these were the only channels to have withdrawn their analogue feed from Calcutta. “The broadcasters are accusing us of piracy to save their face. Otherwise, the I&B ministry could cancel their licences,” said an MSO representative. “We were a little tense as Wednesday midnight approached because had the broadcasters switched off the analogue signals altogether, there would have been a problem. There could have been a law-and-order situation if the popular channels went off together. But that didn’t happen.”
The broadcasters sang a different tune. The CEO of a top television network alleged that “MSOs in Calcutta enjoy political patronage and they are flouting norms”. “The Calcutta market has been taken over by lawlessness. Piracy is rampant as local cable providers are beaming the analogue signal unofficially.”
But then why did the broadcasters, who are losing money because of the alleged pilferage by MSOs, not lodge a complaint?
One source put it bluntly. “No one would like to take on the political establishment here at this point if they want to continue doing business. The chief minister has made it clear that she is opposing the switch.”
Almost with a sense of pride, Firhad announced on Thursday that less than half the cable subscribers in Calcutta had got set-top boxes. Even as he gloated, a broadcaster in Mumbai described Calcutta as “a pirates’ den”.