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Cable dials M over deadline

Cable television players in Calcutta are banking on chief minister Mamata Banerjee to bail them out in the face of an ultimatum from the information and broadcasting ministry to switch off analogue feed by December 27.

The industry’s faith in Mamata stems from the two previous occasions when she had ensured that the multi-system operators and their franchisees were unscathed even as the city missed back-to-back deadlines for the switch to digital.

“Obviously, we have to take the state government into confidence before we can start switching off channels. We have to be in line with the government’s thoughts on the subject as long as we are doing business here,” the director of an MSO said.

The company is in touch with urban development minister Firhad Hakim, who has been lobbying with Delhi on their behalf since April.

Another MSO has written to Hakim, seeking an appointment. “The state government fears there will be a law-and-order problem if we try to force digital TV on our subscribers. In the event of such a problem, who else but the government can handle the backlash? It is in our interest to keep the administration informed about everything,” a senior official of the company said.

Some MSOs have already started switching off analogue signals in phases. “We have two connections, one of which is analogue. The other day, I found NDTV 24x7 and my son’s favourite channel Pogo missing from the analogue bouquet. But both were there on the TV connected to a set-top box,” said a bank official who lives off the airport.

The first deadline for the four metros to go digital was June 30, which the other metro cities missed as well. Delhi and Mumbai adhered to the second deadline, October 31, but Calcutta failed again, prompting the state government to cite the festival season as a distraction.

“Calcuttans have seen two deadlines being missed and yet analogue cable signals continue to be beamed. The general feeling among those who still don’t have set-top boxes is that they can bide their time,” a cable operator said.

But those in the lobby loop warn that Delhi is dead serious about the latest deadline.

The information and broadcasting ministry had summoned the leading MSOs of Calcutta to Shastri Bhavan in the capital on Thursday to make them sign declarations that they would switch off analogue signals in a staggered manner and go fully digital on December 27.

A couple of Calcutta MSOs had taken some English channels off the analogue menu in the first week of December. No additional channel went off air on Friday, sources said.

According to an industry estimate, over 20 lakh out of the 42 lakh cable homes in the city are still making do with analogue feed. Operators say it is impossible to convert so many analogue cable homes into digital in another 14 days.