CAS may prompt broadcasters to make more channels free to air

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New Delhi, Mar 12 (UNI) The race for getting Direct to Home(DTH) platform of the DD may intensify if yesterday's Delhi High Court order to the I&B Ministry to implement the Conditional Access System (CAS) in all the four metros within four weeks is implemented.

There are already 33 free to air channels and applications of 49 more was pending with the Prasar Bharti. If CAS is implemented, it may prompt more broadcasters to agree to free airing of their channels.

However, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has indicated that it might challenge the High Court's order as it would be difficult to implement it in such a short time. Moreover, Ministry officials also feel that the CAS has become irrelevant after the aduent of Direct to Home TV service Consumers in the country today have to pay a fixed price for receiving approximately 80-100 channels without a choice. The channels are distributed by about 15-20,000 cable operators spread all over the country.

In CAS, consumers get the option to choose the channels they want to pay for and view, rather than receiving the whole set of channels made available to them by the Cable Operator.

The 49 broadcasters which have applied to the Prasar Bharti for getting DTH plat form for free airing of their channels include Sahara Samay Rashtriya, Sahara One ETV (Urdu), India TV, S-1, Total TV, Channel News Asia, India Vision (Malyalam/News), Punjab Today, Channel-JTV, and PEOPLE (Kairali TV) which are largely news, current affairs and entertainment channels.

Other applicants include Astha, Day Star, Jagran, Maharishi, Sadhna, Sanskar and Love Star (all religious channels), Vyas, Edusat-IGNOU and Mana TV (all educational) and a number of other channels in Hindi, regional languages, English and other foreign languages.

These channels include many foreign ones(USA, Singapore and Nepal etc).

The government, which is at present in the process of procuring equipment for expansion of DTH service, hopes to install these by the middle of this year.

According to cable operators' representatives, once CAS is implemented, major broadcasters, who were offering their channel in a bouquet leaving no choice to consumers not to see the channels they did not need, may have to go in for free airing of their channels if they find that their telecasts were reaching less number of homes.

'' This is what has happened in Chennai where CAS has been implemented, and this will happen in other metros too,'' said Roop Sharma, president of Cable Operators Federation of India(COFI).

In Chennai, out of 12 cable homes, only 50,000 opted for pay channels, forcing some major broadcasters to go in for free to air channels, she said.

According to her, implementation of CAS would also expose the false claim of broadcasters about their popularity which they managed to project by false TRP rating.

The system will bring more transparency in the set up and save the cable operators from the charges of hiding the figures relating to their coverage areas, she said.

The work on CAS had commenced when the then I and B Minister Sushma Swaraj set up a Task Force in September 2001. Following its report, the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 was amended and a notification issued for introducing the system within six months and a new Task Force was set up to ensure this.

However, the goverment had to defer implementation following intense oppposition from the people and broadcasters. The government's decision to defer the implementaion was challenged in court, which, on Friday ordered the Centre to implement the system in four metros within a week.

Today, Indian cable and satellite (C&S) entertainment is probably one of the cheapest in the world, and if the CAS is implemented, people would naturally demand freedom not to pay for the channels, they don't want to see.

UNI NAZ SB KP1029

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