The information and broadcasting ministry has reiterated that the July 14 midnight deadline for implementation of the conditional access system (CAS) will not be pushed back. Most pay channels have, in a meeting of the CAS task-force last week, promised not to go free-to-air this monsoon. So, the service providers in town are scrambling to meet the initial demand for set-top boxes (STBs), starting July 15.
The message going out to consumers from the multi-system operators (MSOs) is: “Call your local cable operator and order your box NOW.”
RPG Netcom, which feeds more than 70 per cent of Calcutta’s 12-lakh-odd cable homes, is providing finishing touches to the rollout model of its analog-digital combine, while SitiCable, having taken the hi-tech HITS (headend in the sky) route, has already concretised its digital STB deployment pattern.
“We are gearing up to meet a demand for a lakh analog boxes on Day One of CAS, and hope to seed thrice that amount in the first six months. However, infant mortality and other teething troubles could impede initial penetration, since we are venturing into uncharted technology territory,” says Dilip Sen, RPG Netcom chief executive.
Sen urges cable homes not willing to restrict their viewing to the 30 free-to-air channels, for Rs 72 (plus local taxes) per month, to contact their para cable operator immediately, “so that we get ample time to process the orders”. The MSO, which plans to launch a parallel digital platform in a few nodes feeding “upmarket areas”, is expected to declare the price tag on its boxes by the end of this week, and is fine-tuning the funding options in conjunction with the cableman.
“Besides the option of outright purchase (for around Rs 3,100 per analog box), we are working on an EMI scheme wherein the consumer pays around Rs 1,000 upfront and the rest in monthly instalments at 16-17 per cent interest,” says Mrinal Chatterjee, who represents Calcutta cable operators on the CAS task force. The director of Akash Sutra, a Netcom-affiliated master control room on VIP Road, will also offer “subscribers with transferable jobs”, the facility to hire a box for Rs 300 per month.
SitiCable, which reaches around 2.25 lakh cable homes in town, is entering the CAS ring with 50,000 boxes. “Sourcing boxes is not a problem, but to pre-empt operational delay, viewers should order now,” says a SitiCable representative in Calcutta. The MSO, which is distributing feed to the entire country from its nodal HITS set-up in Noida, has lined up two funding models for subscribers.
“The viewer can either pay a fully refundable security deposit of Rs 3,990 or Rs 2,990, with daily rentals of Re 1 and Rs 1.50, respectively. For all bookings prior to July 15, the first six months’ rental charges will be waived,” explains the SitiCable official.
Manthan, the third MSO in the fray, feeding around 1.5 lakh cable homes, is the least bullish about CAS. “We are opting for an analog platform and will be ready to meet an initial demand of around 15,000 boxes, offering both outright and hire-purchase of boxes,” says COO Rangan Dasgupta. The two independent networks — Barasat Cable TV Network and Howrah Cable TV Network — are also said to be gearing up to meet an initial 10 per cent demand for boxes.