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BW Businessworld

Cable TV Digitisation Date To Be Extended By A Year

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The deadline for digitisation of cable television is being extended by one year. Though there is no formal announcement by the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) ministry yet, I&B secretary Bimal Jhulka indicated to media persons that such a decision had been taken. This would be the first major decision taken by Prakash Jawadekar as I&B minister. The minister had earlier hinted that he was in favour of extending the deadline to give a boost to the indigenous production of set-top boxes (STBs), which are now being imported from South Korea and China.

The new deadlines for Phase III and IV have been reset to December 31, 2015. The earlier cut-off dates were September 30, this year for Phase III and December 31, 2014 for Phase IV. Phase III covers small towns, municipalities and district centers, and Phase IV – the last phase – includes rural India and the rest of the country not covered earlier.

The implementation of digitisation or ‘addressibility’, involves routing cable signals through an STB boxes that can track the channels and programmes being watched. Digitisation is expected to provide more robust revenues for cable multisystem operators (MSOs) as well as broadcasters, and improve signal and sound quality through the changeover from analogue to digital signals.

Digitisation or Digital Addressable Systems (DAS) was successfully implemented in 2 earlier phases in large cities. Phase 1 was completed in the big metros that included New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai by June 30, 2012, while Phase II was implemented in 38 other key cities and towns with population of over one million by March 31, 2013.

“The extension of the digitization deadline is also linked to the sharing of digital tariff between the cable networks and broadcasters. The issue is under dispute and should be decided by the Supreme Court in a few days,” Ashok Mansukhani, spokesperson for the Cable TV networks, told BW/Businessworld.

Supriya Sahu, Joint Secretary in the I&B ministry, in July last year had estimated the industry would require 75 million STBs to cover Phase III and IV. The mammoth supply required and the inclination of the new government to encourage local manufacture, has led to rethinking within the Narendra Modi government on extending the deadline for conversion to digitisation.

A section of the cable industry is in favor of implementing Phase III and IV separately rather than merging it with a common deadline of December 31, next year, as the government has done.

S.N.Sharma, CEO of DEN Networks, one of the larger MSOs in the country, said June 31, 2015 would be a practical deadline for Phase III as there are many towns and small cities that are ready for digitisation and need not wait till 31 December 2015.

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