DTH operators smell blood in cable digitization move

If cable operators thought they would have a smooth transition from analog-digital services to digital-only services by June 30, satellite-based DTH operators seem to have other ideas.

According to the rules, cable operators must switch off the analog signals on their lines in big cities by June 30.

Once the analog service is switched off, people who are watching cable TV without any set-top-boxes will essentially be left in the dark. They will have to spend about Rs 1,000 to buy a set-top-box to convert digital signals back into analog, before they can see their favorite soaps or movies again.

The reason for the move is simple: while the current hybrid system allows only about 300 channels, the new system can allow about 800 to 1,500 channels by freeing up spectrum on the cable lines.

The new system will also allow cable operators to provide on-demand services such as videos, songs, downloads and movies, and compete better with DTH.

However, DTH operators are also waiting for the digitization, for a different reason.

They believe that when the consumer is asked to buy the Rs 1000 set-top-box, they have a chance to win him over to their platform. A new DTH connection too costs only Rs 1,000.

Dish TV, the oldest player, seems to be the first off the mark in this case — unveiling a new TV commercial targeting consumers confused about the switch-over to digital services.

“Dish TV has geared up the upcoming digitization task. With the new TV commercial focussing on consumer awareness campaign, Dish TV has equally expanded the dealer network and also strengthened the current dealer base. The services are being upgraded with getting the technological talent pool and Customer Support Centre,” the network said.

Its ‘Go Digital now with Dish TV’ ad campaign, featuring Shah Rukh Khan, will focus on the “upheaval of consumer mind set with various activities” associated with the digitization campaign.

That said, DTH players may be rejoicing too soon. The primary reason for switching over to DTH so far has been to ensure predictable quality in TV reception.

While cable TV reception so far has been patchy, because of frequent disconnections and poor signal, digitization may force cable networks to upgrade their infrastructure.

Besides, once all the channels are in the digital mode, cable operators will have several times the band-width that DTH operators have. As such, cable operators will be able to offer services such as true video on demand and Internet access, which almost totally impossible on DTH.

Digitization is also likely to bring down cable set top box prices from about Rs 2,000 to about Rs 1,000-1,500. Some cable networks may even choose to give away the boxes free of cost to customers who pay in advance for a year, as is being done in some areas in the cities already.