The ministry of information and broadcasting is making efforts to speed up the process of digitizing cable television in India, said Bimal Julka, who’s just taken over as secretary.
Julka, who replaced Uday Kumar Varma on 1 July, met representatives of multi-system operators (MSOs), or large cable network companies, recently and asked them to start rolling out the third phase of digitization under the digital addressable system (DAS) programme, which requires televisions to access signals through a set-top box.
“Phase 3, under which we will digitize the moffusil towns, is supposed to be completed by September 2014. But we have already asked the MSOs to recce the towns and begin work,” Julka said.
Digitization, made mandatory by law in Novermber 2011, is aimed at moving cable services to digital from analogue for more clarity in reception of television signals and transparency in subscription numbers. The four biggest cities—Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata—underwent digitization in the first phase, while 38 will be covered in the second and the rest of urban India in the third.
Julka, former special secretary and financial adviser in the foreign ministry, said 77 million set-top boxes were needed to digitize all of India’s television viewing homes.
He said the government is encouraging Indian companies to manufacture set-top boxes.
“We met them and said it was a huge opportunity for indigenous companies. They should come forward and make these boxes instead of giving business to China and Taiwan,” he said.
Television audience measurement, which has of late been a cause of tension among stakeholders, is also a key concern.
“Although the government should not be involved with ratings, we must ensure their credibility. Ratings should not be tailored to suit the interest of advertisers. They should be fair and transparent,” the secretary said.
On the government’s reported move to install chips in set-top boxes to record real-time viewership data, Julka said there was no clarity on the issue.
“There are two views. Some say it is possible to measure viewership via set-top boxes, others say it is not. We are still discussing the issue with the MSOs,” he said.
The ministry is keen to hold private FM radio auctions at the earliest.
“Our endeavour is to push radio auctions. There are some procedural issues; we have to ask for expressions of interest and request for proposals,” Julka said.
As for raising foreign investment limits in media companies, the matter has been referred to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, he said, without elaborating.