MUMBAI — Conditional access TV, the controversial system allowing viewers to pick and choose pay TV channels rather than cough up for a bouquet, will roll out in India after nearly three years of delay.
A New Delhi high court judge has ordered the Broadcasting Ministry to introduce CAS in Mumbai (2.9 million cable subscribers), New Delhi (2.2 million) and Kolkata (1.7 million) in just four weeks, and fined the ministry R100,000 ($2,200) for the hold-up.
The suit was brought by major operators, including Hathway Communications, Indus India and Indian Cable Network, irritated they had been left with thousands of the set-top boxes needed to access CAS.
The ministry shelved CAS in September 2003, just two months after its planned introduction, due to opposition from tens of thousands of small cable operators, some of which distribute to just a single building. Consumers, too, were worried about the cost of the boxes.
CAS did roll out in the largely Tamil-language city of Chennai, which has 1.5 million subs. However, most of the Tamil pay TV channels converted to free-to-air, which meant viewers didn’t need the set-top box.
That’s unlikely to happen in New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, where many of the popular Hindi channels are pay.
As well as giving viewers better value, CAS will regulate the cable TV sector, which is accessed by millions of households but counts many fewer paying subscribers, and force those cablers to share revenues with pay TV channels.
The ministry intends to appeal the judgement, while the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India says it is mulling action against the four-week timeframe.
The news will worry India’s fledgling satellite TV companies.
The Star and Zee stables offer their inhouse pay TV channels on satellite, while pubcaster Doordarshan’s channels are available free.
But a Star satellite subscriber would need a CAS connection for channels like Sony and Discovery.
So, it would make more sense to drop satellite and opt for CAS.