Stakeholders meet minister over Indian TV digitisation

Rebecca Hawkes ©RapidTVNews | 10-06-2012

The 30 June deadline for digitising the cable TV networks in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata remains in place following a meeting between stakeholders and India's Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni.

A task force meeting is now scheduled for 15 June, where government-distributed questionnaires to pinpoint progress towards digitisation will be considered and a final decision conveyed, according to Indian Television.

The meeting on 8 June in Vigyan Bhavan was attended by Soni, along with ministry secretary Uday Kumar Varma, additional secretary and task force head Rajiv Takru, and joint secretary (broadcasting) Supriya Sahu.

They were reportedly joined by about 60 stakeholders, predominantly from India's cable and multi system operators, and included industry stalwarts: K Jayaraman, managing director and chief executive, Hathway Cable & Datacom; Ravi Mansukhani, managing director, IndusInd Media & Communications; Jagjit Kohli, managing director and chief executive, Digicable; Thiru D Vivekanandan, managing director, Arasu Cable TV Corporation; Jawahr Goel, managing director of Dish TV.

The onus of implementing digital addressable systems was reportedly placed by Soni squarely upon the stakeholders at the meeting rather than the government, although she noted a deadline extension had been raised by some chief ministers and stakeholders, as well as in the High Courts of Delhi and Mumbai.

Soni heard that the state-owned Arasu, which plans to provide digital cable TV services across Chennai, would not be ready for digitisation until 31 December, having recently issued a tender for set top boxes. In addition, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa has added his voice to calls for an extension to the impending deadline.

Indian Television reports the independent cable operators are also seeking a six month extension to the first phase of digitisation (for the metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata). Their reasons include the shortage of digital set top boxes, the late availability of the tariff regulations by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the high carriage fee, and what they consider to be the non-viability of digital addressable systems.

Representing the other side of the argument were big name broadcasters - such as Punit Goenka, managing director and chief executive of Zee Entertainment Enterprises; Uday Shankar, chief executive, Star India; Narayan Rao, executive vice chairperson NDTV; and Sunil Lulla, managing director and chief executive, Times Television Network.

"The broadcasters vehemently opposed any shift in deadline and said that even a minor delay would send wrong signals to the industry. Sticking to the deadline would ensure that set top boxes would move fast," an unnamed source attending the meeting is quoted as saying by Indian Television.