Conditional access in Chennai

BY brayley| IN Regional Media | 29/09/2003

Conditional access in Chennai


Changing channels with a set-top box is very different. You pull up the main menu with all the channels listed then click on the one you want to watch, rather like browsing the net.



James Gordon




Hands up all those who watch the  Aly McBeal series on Star World!  From now on that channel could cost you Rs 14 per month. That’s not bad you may say, but that’s not all. The family has also to buy a SCV box at Rs 4356 or rent one at Rs 2500 + Rs 20 monthly. Maybe this is still within your means. 


Now supposing someone in your home likes watching cricket. Major cricket events come on two channels ESPN and Star Sports which you can get inDIVidually at Rs 29 each or bundled together at Rs 32.


Kids’ channels are useful for baby-sitting. With CAS you have Nickleodeon for just Rs 14. This is a stand-alone offer, and the price will remain the same even if you get ZEE or SONY.


So far you are spending: Rs 2500 (refundable deposit) plus:

Rs 20 monthly for CAS box rental (some operators ask for more)

Rs 14 monthly  for Star World (a la carte)

Rs 32 monthly for Sports Package ESPN + S.S.

Rs 14 monthly for Nickleodeon (a la carte).

Your monthly cable costs are now Rs 180:

= total Rs 80 monthly for Pay channels via CAS

= total Rs 100 monthly for 50+ "free channels" incl. taxes.


This is a first example in which the family has made specific choices. Rs 180 per month is maybe even less than they were paying before when all the channels were FTA (Free-to-Air). So that is an improvement on the monthly charge (they had to get that set-top box).


In the above example the family will have less channels to "handle" at the end of your remote switch. This could give the impression of paying only for channels they wanted to see, which is what the government promised.



That first example is probably not typical. Indian cable viewers have all become used to receiving a mixture of "modest software" (produced in India) and "expensive software" (produced abroad) at the same price. Journalists had written about the cost of "pay channels" being hiked, but the viewers could not identify them. All the channels arrived in the same way.


With CAS the choice is closer to that of in Food World. You have your local produce at a lesser price on the lower shelves and the imported goods at a higher price on the upper shelves. Nobody complains in a super market because the clients are not aware of the reasoning behind the choices they are making.




English-language entertainment and sport make up the majority of the choices for CAS subscribers. Film fans will find movie channels in four different packages, but you can perhaps subscribe to them all inDIVidually if you wish:

Star Movies     at Rs 32

ZEE-MGM        at Rs 15

HBO                at Rs 20

AXN                 at Rs 14

Hallmark          at Rs 12


ESPN and Star Sports can be Rs 29 in a-la-carte, or Rs 32 together. However it is probable that inDIVidual choices will be limited in time. The operators will not wish to have a million homes requesting a certain sports channel when India tours Australia in December, then canceling the channel in January.  Early announcements suggest a minimum period of one year for an a-la-carte subscription. Every subscriber to every pay channel is sending money to that channel via the MSO, a complicated computerised accounting, the SMS (Subscriber Managment System).



Each home must now do it’s "shopping". There will be pressures such as "Daddy if you want Zee TV and I want Cartoon Network that makes Rs 45, so we might as well take the whole ZEE package at Rs 55." The cable operators want us to buy in "packages" so the pricing of a-la-carte selections quickly go up to a sum equivalent to a package.


At the other end of the social scale there will be worse pressures such as "Daddy please buy a CAS box for the cricket. All the other boys in school have a CAS box at home".


Buying entertainment will henceforth have the same inequalities as going to the movies. It’s just that it was not like that before. Every viewer had roughly the same channels and so financial, social differences did not show on the cable networks.



Here in Tamil Nadu the viewers insist on having all the "South-Indian" language channels in the free-to-air bouquet, while only a minority would complain if they lost such linguistic offers as Aaj Tak  CNN or Zee News.





Channel operators are offering a huge collection of new channels in an attempt to promote CAS boxes. Some of these offers will please foreign residents and hotel tv distribution  circuits where a number of people are watching television in India without being Indian : EDTV (Dubai); ARIRANG (Korean); TV5 (French); RAI (Italian); TVE (Spanish); DW (German); WORLDNET (USA); FASHION TV ; plus several channels from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and a big bouquet from Russia which includes sub-titled films.


Also on the list of additional (FTA) are channels which were not always in Chennai before : Ushe; Udaya; Teja; Indus; Balle Balle; Maa-tv; Splash; SS Music; GOD; Aastha; Muslim tv; NOW; SAB.


In the FTA bouquet there are four DD channels : DD Sports, DD Podighai, DD-India, DD-Metro, plus "Hyderabad Digital".


Finally, some channels which had announced their intention of going PAY now appear in the FTA bouquet : NDTV -India (Hindi), Star News (Hindi),

NDTV- 24/7, Headline News, Vijay (music), Zee music.






For this CAS system to work the cable operators have a lot more work to do. They will now have different financial dealings with the subscribers and so, just like an airline or an insurance company they must demonstrate their reliability. Unhooking channels each morning just for the pleasure of a technician at the head-end (technical HQ) will have to stop.


The MSOs should guarantee that the contents will not change in any house which has invested in a set-top-box. The package line-up should be published both in the newspapers and on Internet and should never change without prior warning and/or consequent financial adjustments.


The MSO should fill in the data pages that are available on all CAS decoders Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) which indicate the type of channel, and rudiments of the programme schedule. They must start delivering channels with a balanced audio levels so that viewers do not have to change the volume each time they change the channel. Attention to audio will become a new task for these technicians who previously were only interested in the picture (the video). In Chennai, the Korean channel still has no audio after at least a week. Checking sound levels will become part of the job.


The local cable ‘wallahs’ must all purchase power back-up systems and pay somebody to be on duty late at night. They should obtain two phone lines as subscriber ‘call-in’ services. If they are unable to do fulfil this obligation then they should farm out the work to one of Chennai’s efficient back-office companies.


Set-top-boxes should be connected to each subscriber’s VCR. What is the point in paying for expensive movie channels if you can not record them. For the moment in Channai this aspect is completely overlooked.




One person’s subjective impression is not a poll, but I have the impression one will watch less television altogether. Changing channels with a STB is very different. Flicking through the channels one by one is rather slow. You pull up the main menu with all the channels listed then click on the one you want to watch, like browsing the net. This requires a greater knowledge of available fare than just roaming through the channels.


The picture is greatly improved. Even DD Sports is now visible, although the sound is not always audible. Soon they will offer films on a pay-per-view basis, for one film at a time. My impression is that tv watching could become more like going to the movies, or going to see a sports match, than just flicking through a mass of free channels. But I may be wrong.




There is a lot of money to be made in the pay cable business but attitudes to subscribers will have to change if CAS is going to be a success. No longer can the cable industry behave like an old-fashioned phone company. Because they have what the White House would call a "short window". Soon the television viewers of India will have the option to subscribe to alternative systems, such as Direct Broadcast from powerful spot satellites (DBS).


In the UK, and France, DBS services have been so successful that the cable industry in these two advanced countries has a very low penetration indeed compared to the potential of tv homes (eg 15% maximum). That is because DBS does a better job, it is more reliable, the prices are competitive, the breakdowns are much less frequent, and it offers other services including different forms of pay-per-view. Indian cable has indeed a short window.



                      SCV Multi-source packages proposed by SCV CHENNAI


                      1) PLATINUM   185 RS  = 33 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      Star Movies/Star Plus/Star Gold/Star World/Nat Geog/Advent One/Ch. V
                      Zee-tv/ZEE-cine/ ZEE news/ Zee english/CNBC/CNN/cartoon/Reality/Trend/
                      Alpha Marati/Gujarat/Bangla/Punjabi/
                      Sony/Sony Max/ hallmark/An Plan/Discovery/Espn:Star Sports/
                      Ten Sports/AXN/HBO/Nickleodeon


                      2) DIAMOND   165 RS  = 30 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      Star movies/Star Plus/Star Gold/Star World/
                      CNBC/Nat Geog/Zee tv/Advent One/Ch V:
                      Zee Cine/ZEE news/ZEE MGM/CNN/ZEE Eng/
                      Cartoon/Reality/Trend/ Alpha Marati/ Bangla/Punjabi/
                      ESPN/HBO/ Sony/SonyMax/AXN/Disc/Nickleodeon/An Plan


                      3) GOLD 125 RS = 18 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      Star Movies/Star Plus/Star Gold/Star World/
                      HBO/Sony/Sony Max/AXN/ Nickleodeon
                      Nat Geog/Advent one/Hallmark/Cartoon/
                      Espn/Star Sports/ Ch V/


                      4) GOLD PLUS 125 RS = 18 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      Star Movies/Star Plus/Star Gold/Star World/
                      Zee MGM/  Zee-tv/ZEE-cine/  Zee news/ Ch V/Trendz/Ad One/
                      Alpha Marati/Gujarat/Bangla/Punjabi/
                      Hallmark/Reality/ Nickleodeon/

                      5) SILVER 119 RS  = 8 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      HBO/AXN/Star Movies/Star World
                      Zee Eng/ZEE MGM/Star Sports/Espn


                      6) BRONZE  105 RS   = 8 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      HBO/AXN/Disc/An Plan/ESPN/Star Sports/
                      Star World/Star movies

                      7) RUBY 85 RS    = 6 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      HBO/Cartoon/ESPN/Star Sports/Discovery/Animal Planet


                      8) EMERALD  85 RS    = 6 SELECTED CHANNELS
                      Star movies/Cartoon/ESPN/Star Sports/
                      Nat Geog/ Advent One.







Star Plus, Sony(SET),  ZEE TV , AXN     HBO Zee Cinema     Star Movies  Star Gold,     Set Max ,    Hallmark,     Zee MGM,     Star World, Zee English, Reality TV,     Trendz ,

Channel V ,National Geographic, Adventure One,     Discovery Channel ,Animal Planet,   Cartoon Network Nickelodeon ,    Zee News,    CNN,     CNBC, ESPN ,Star Sports, Ten Sports,      Star Vijay,         Alpha Bangala ,    Alpha Gujrati ,    Alpha Marathi,  Alpha Punjabi.



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