New Delhi: The Union cabinet has approved necessary changes in India’s downlinking policy for broadcasters, enabling them to provide content to providers of television (TV) services delivered via the Internet, clearing the way for yet another digital transmission technology for TV signals.
The guidelines from the ministry of information and broadcasting (I&B), which will lay out the official framework for providing what is called IPTV—short for Internet Protocol TV—services and clear the way for its commercial roll-out, will be out within a week, said a senior ministry official, who did not wish to be named.
Cabinet approval for the ceiling on foreign equity in IPTV ventures, which India’s broadcast regulator had recommended at 74%, will be sought separately, he added.
Until now, TV broadcasters were allowed to provide their feeds only to licensed cable operators and DTH (direct-to-home) service providers.
According to a December report by industry body Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry and consultant Ernst and Young, IPTV will garner one million subscribers by 2010. “The growth of IPTV will, however, be limited due to the high cost of additional infrastructure and low broadband penetration,” the report noted.
For consumers, the move will mean access to interactive content on what will be a two-way link, enabling services such as video on demand, time shift TV, group gaming and interactive advertising.
See: Turning interactive
Time shift TV refers to a service where a customer can access a TV programme well after the time of broadcast. While a digital video recorder enables a similar service on DTH, no such recording hardware is required on IPTV.
A Gurgaon resident, who for six months used IPTV offered on a trial basis by Bharti Airtel Ltd, India’s largest mobile phone service firm by customers, said he found the video on demand feature attractive. “(The picture quality was more or less the same, and I felt DTH was better. In value-added services, there are a lot of possibilities, but it will depend on how the service providers package and price them,” this consumer, who is a senior executive at a broadcasting company, said, seeking anonymity.
Apart from Bharti Airtel, which plans to launch the IPTV service in 100 cities, second ranked rival Reliance Communications Ltd, state-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Mahanagar Sanchar Nigam Ltd also have IPTV plans. “We plan to launch in 98 cities by March 2009,” said Anil Jain, deputy, director general (broadband) at BSNL.
According to the recommendations on IPTV made in January by broadcast regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), both telecom operators and cable operators can provide IPTV services without an additional licence. It is, however, not clear if Trai’s suggestions will be modified in the final guidelines.
The regulator also authorized the department of telecommunications (DoT) to permit any telecom licensee to provide IPTV services. Any cable operator registered under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995, also does not need an additional licence for IPTV services.
Internet service providers with a networth of more than Rs100 crore too, with DoT permission, can provide IPTV services.
The content transmitted on IPTV will come under regulation by multiple agencies. While the ministry of I&B will ensure adherence to the programming and advertising code, the ministry of communications and information technology and DoT will monitor the Internet content as per the IT Act of 2000.
The IPTV platform also presents cable operators an opportunity to move closer to complete digitization and also offer a service with potential for higher billings per customer, said Ashok Mansukhani, president of the Multi System Operator Alliance, an industry body.
No cable operator has so far announced its intention to launch IPTV services.