Cable Digitization in India: Challenges and opportunities

  Jun 24, 2013 6:26:19 AM

Number of TV households in India is about 160 million and is expected to reach 200 million by 2017. Subtracting about one-third subscribing to Direct-To-Home services, the rest are going to be touched by cable digitization. First and second phases of cable digitization that covered all metros and 38 cities with a population of over 1 million, are complete. Third and fourth phases are expected to be covered by 30th November 2014 and by 31st March 2015 respectively. This is the first major structural and technology reform cable industry is facing since its advent on the early 1990s. Started as a local, relatively unorganized, franchisee model, cable industry is moving towards an organized sector with the role of the Local Cable Operator somewhat muted. The subscriber management system and the associated Conditional Access services (including encryption of pay channels) are being carried out by the Multi System Operator (MSO). The digitization of the video and broadcast Television content provides the advantages of packing more channels in to the existing cables, and providing channels to the subscriber based on demand. If so, are there any challenges?

The Conditional Access System (CAS) uses typically the smart card based Set Top Box (STB) to decrypt the channels based on the subscription. Since the MSOs operate in specific geographical regions, in some cases even in only certain districts, there is a possibility of subscriber facing difficulty of using a STB provided by one MSO in another region operated by a different MSO. The interoperability of the STBs is dictated often by the proprietary nature of the different modules. Next step based in the evolution could be building next generation STBs based on open interfaces!

The Electronic Programmable Guide (EPG) is a supplemental service that can leverage the cable digitization to provide programme schedules, and programmes’ suitability for viewing (including parental control and a short preview). The EPG will also enable advertisers to better target their advertisements on programmes and viewers. However, EPG has to be easy to use and provide an intuitive interface for viewers to use it, especially for the aged, and semi-literate (as digitization moves to the third and fourth phase), in the local vernacular language. Need of the hour is to exploit the EPG to its fullest extent, and to enhance the features and associated adoption of EPG by all stakeholders concerned – the MSO, the broadcasters, the advertisers and the viewers?

Co-authored by Krishna Kishore and Dr. V. Sridhar

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