Surender Singh , Senior Engineer , Star Sports , India

"With digitization, cable operators are legally bound to send encrypted signals to the consumer which get decoded via a STB. "

Cable TV is the largest mode of distribution of television programs to viewers in any country. It plays an important role of getting to the nerve of people through entertainment, news, sports, ethics etc.

Cable TV digitization is the best step taken by the government of India which benefits all stake holders including the distributor, broadcasters, cable operators, MSOs, and even viewers. Cable TV digitization provides quite a different experience of viewing television for viewers as they would not get dull quality pictures like in analog TV. India, a country with a variety of people having different cultures, aspects, and status needs a structure that is quite transparent in terms of money, TRP ratings, viewers, distribution, and which benefits broadcasters too. It is a step toward the removal of shortcomings of the analogue TV system which include nonaddressability and capacity constraints. The digital system helps operators to provide more channels with good picture quality and also provide an extra source of income through interactive services.

According to the Cable TV digitization amendment Bill 2011, all cable TV companies should digitize their analog system by the end of 2014 and also mandates cable operators to submit a report regarding number of subscribers, subscription rates, and number of subscriber for free-to-air and pay channels. TRAI mandates that revenue gathered by local cable operators should be distributed among broadcasters, MCOs, LCOs. This bill helps government to make the sector clean and transparent and also to keep an eye on the stake holders.

One question that comes to mind is that of common people who are not related to this field and what are the benefits of cable TV digitization to society and government. So let us discuss this in detail. Digitization means converting the existing analog system into a digital system. With the digitization of cable television, the radio frequency signal is first encrypted and sent to the consumer house and the STB (Set top box) is installed at the consumer end to decrypt the signal and feed to the TV sets in either the analog or digital form depending upon the user's needs. With digitization, cable operators are legally bound to send encrypted signals to the consumer, which get decoded via a STB.

Impact of Digitization

Before we discuss the impact of digitization, let us discuss some terms to clearly understand the system.

Pay channels. In respect of digital addressable system, pay channels are the channels for which subscription fees is to be paid by the DTH or multisystem operators to broadcasters.

FTA. FTA means free-to-air channels for which no subscription fee is paid.

LCO. LCO stands for local cable operator who have no right to downlink any channel.

MSO. MSO are multisystem operators like DEN, Hathways, SITI, Manthan who have the right to downlink all channels and encrypt them on RF to increase privacy.

CAS. CAS stands for conditional access system, which is used to control the access of the digital signal. Only the subscriber who paid for the service will have the right to access the service.

Carriage fees. It is the fee paid by the broadcaster to the LCO to carry their channels to the viewers.

BST. This means basic service tier which is introduced as the consumers have to pay a subscription fee for paid channels and they can be provided a basic channel package at a base fare.

There are two systems: CAS and DAS. In the CAS system the FTA channels are downlinked by LCO and distributed whereas in the DAS system all channels including FTA channels are downlinked and distributed by MSO only. LCOs are the primary revenue collectors who collect revenue of service from the subscribers and MSOs collect the lump sum money from LCOs.

Impact on Subscriber

Subscriber gets benefits in terms of picture quality. They get to view good-quality including HD-quality picture with the feature of recording programs using the STB. They also get subscribed services like video-on-demand etc.

Subscribers get the basic tier facility and hence have same tariff rates all over India and enjoy a package of channels at a basic tariff.

Pay what to watch: Viewers have to pay for only those channel which they want to see and hence enjoy TV with minimum tariffs.

Digitals sets get up to 20 radio channels on the same platform.

No disparity is seen as previously it was LCOs who fixed the monthly rental based on the number of consumers and locality and hence people from different localities had to pay different fares and would get different package of channels. Hence digitization gives viewers a feeling of equality in paying the rental.

Impact on Broadcasters

Broadcasters are free from giving huge carriage fees to the LCOs for carrying their channels to viewers and hence can increase their profitability and improve their content too.

Subscription revenue gets increased for the broadcaster and makes them less dependent on the revenue from advertisements and sales.

LCOs have to report the number of subscribers and hence increase the revenue sharing between governing bodies.

Impact on Multisystem Operators

MSOs are the ones who will get most benefits from digitization.

MSOs start getting the share from the subscription fees paid by the viewer.

MSOs now directly connect with customers which paves the way for interactive services and better quality services and increases transparency of the subscriber base.

Direct access to the subscriber will shift the bargaining power from the LCOs to the MSOs and they can bargain with broadcasters too.

Impact on Industry

Digitization increases the transparency in the industry and hence government gets the exact number of subscribers and the exact number of channels aired.

As transparency increases in the system, the revenue-distribution problem is solved and the money is shared as per the ratio decided and all stake holders get benefited.

This will help in money rotation and hence would be helpful in reducing black money.

The viewing quality is improved to a great extent and hence accurate number of viewings helps in giving accurate TRP ratings and this increases healthy competition.

This helps government to increase the FDI funding which helps the industry to grow to a greater extent.

Conclusion

Digitization of cable TV definitely enhances the experience of television viewing for viewers. This will increase the quality by giving digital pictures with high-definition sound quality to viewers. Also it will make TV viewing more personal, interactive, and social. With increase in revenue and substantial improvising in content the number of pay channels may increase too. The industry will see many mergers as LCOs will tie up with many triple-play service providers and MSOs to improve their infrastructure. The entire setup would therefore needed to be changed to meet the future implementation. An adequate supply of pricing and upgrade technology is therefore required to meet such a futuristic plan. A committee is need to be set for answering to and rectifying grievances of both consumers and service providers.

Digitization does not mean just installing STBs but it also involves altering the long-standing viewing habits. We know it is quite difficult to change the old analog system but it is the demand of the time to give the industry a transparent and balanced system for an overall balanced growth of the society.