The television will soon stop being the television. This is already happening in countries with extensive and reliable broadband networks and it’s a change coming to India, hastened in part by legislation the Lok Sabha cleared on Wednesday and websites that stream programming.
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill paves the way for a critical shift in the way television will be distributed to India’s estimated 116 million cable TV homes, mandating a shift to digital from analogue. In the first phase, this changeover has to happen in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata by June 2012.
Over the years, the large cable networks known as multi-system operators have laid nearly 15,000km of fibre optic cable. The move to digital will force cable operators to invest in upgrading networks. The upgraded pipes can not only carry hundreds of channels, they will have sufficient capacity to offer a host of services, including broadband and telecom. That brings closer the prospect of one fat pipe into the home supplying all of the above and more.
Going digital will, therefore, help the government achieve its broadband target, says a report by researcher Media Partners Asia.
The telecom regulator’s national broadband plan envisages cable operators playing a key role in driving broadband growth. In September, per capita broadband penetration was a woeful 1%, the report said. Anyone who’s struggled to download an iPad app will understand the eagerness for greater high-speed Internet access.
The spread of broadband, slow and painful though it has been, has reached a level where media companies are moving to establish a first-mover advantage. Yahoo! India last month launched an online video service offering films, news, entertainment and lifestyle content from television channels. Star India is planning an online digital distribution platform with assorted content along the lines of Hulu.com.
The numbers bear out the enthusiasm. According to Digital Life, a recent study by TNS Global Market Research said that of the total Internet users (100 million) in India, 18% are watching programmes online. By the end of 2012, this number will grow to 28%. ComScore Inc., a global Internet marketing research company, says YouTube’s users in India have grown from 16 million at the beginning of 2011 to 23.6 million.
As digital cable holds out the promise of boosting subscription revenue and reducing placement fees, channels see themselves as device-agnostic content producers that can monetize programming across platforms.
Are channels justified in regarding broadband and digital cable as game-changers? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org