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Digital axe on a few channels

Some city MSOs are switching off the analogue feed of niche channels, taking a furtive step towards digitisation after repeated prods from the Centre.

Going off air in some homes without set-top boxes are English movie and entertainment channels (see chart), that the least number of customers are likely to miss. “Moreover, those who watch these channels are more likely than the rest to have set-top boxes,” said an MSO official.

By removing the channels from their bouquet, the MSOs are going against chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s diktat that all channels be beamed in analogue mode till “most people in the city have a set-top box”.

Only about 45 per cent of the cable homes in Calcutta have got set-top boxes, according to industry insiders.

“We have withdrawn English movie and entertainment channels from the analogue bouquet. Until people miss something that they are used to watching, they won’t buy set-top boxes,” said the director of an MSO that has opted for a phase-out of analogue signals.

“The I&B ministry is asking us every other day what type of signal we are beaming and we are being forced to avoid answering the question directly. We have been saying that the digitisation process is on but we cannot go on singing the same tune forever,” he added.

Four of the 11 MSOs operating in the Calcutta Metropolitan Area have started taking analogue channels off the beam. “We will continue the process and gradually take more popular channels off air. This might seem rude but it is better than waking up one morning and finding all the channels gone,” said the city head of another MSO.

MSOs in Delhi and Mumbai had adopted the strategy of withdrawing channels genre by genre to wean away viewers from analogue transmission, but all before the October 31 digitisation deadline.

The digitisation process has been stalled in Chennai following a Madras High Court stay on the basis of a PIL.

Cable industry sources said MSOs going in for the phase-out of analogue channels want to clear their stock of set-top boxes. MSOs without a stock of set-top boxes are continuing to beam all the channels in analogue mode.

Industry insiders are confident that the demand for set-top boxes will increase once the prices of the channels are announced.