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Govt looks at options for smoother CAS roll-over

Our Bureau

NEW DELHI, June 30

EVEN as there are just 15 days left for the implementation of the Conditional Access System (CAS), it is still very unclear whether the consumer will have to buy a set-top box (STB) to watch his favourite pay channels.

While emphasising that there is no rollback on the implementation of CAS, the Government on Monday said that it was looking at the option of `dual feed' and was talking of a `twilight zone' to ensure a smooth rollover.

Dual feed means that the existing pay channels would be available both in the encrypted format (for which a set-top box would be required) and the free format, while twilight zone would be the period wherein pay channels, if offered without a STB, would not be a cognisable offence.

According to a notification issued earlier this month, after June 14, receiving pay channels without an addressable system would be a cognisable offence.

Addressing newspersons after a series of meetings with broadcasters and officials, the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, said that CAS was being implemented on July 15 as scheduled. However, suggestions of "dual feed" and "twilight zone" have been made and the Government would examine these. "We are making it consumer friendly so as to ensure that there are no blank outs", he said.

He, however, did not specify the time-period for which dual feed or twilight zone would be applicable. While offering a dual feed is technically possible, according to industry sources, it is not feasible.

Meanwhile, major broadcasters such as Star, Sony and ESPN on Monday made the a la carte rates of channels available to the Government. These are maximum retail prices inclusive of distribution margins.

The revenue share arrangement between the broadcasters and service providers would be worked out separately. Zee, which has only submitted its bouquet price to the Government, will come out with individual rates in the next few days. Mr Prasad also said broadcasters assured him that they would keep freeze on the current rates of pay channels for six months.

Going by the rates submitted by the broadcasters, the monthly cable bill of consumers would be anything between Rs 200 and Rs 250 (inclusive of taxes) and will comprise mainly the free-to-air channels and some driver entertainment and sports channels.

The price of Star Plus, for instance, is Rs 24, Star Movies Rs 20, Sony Rs 20, SET Max Rs 14, ESPN-Star Sports together for Rs 32 (individual price has been fixed at Rs 29 each).

The cable operators on Monday also met up with officials at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to discuss the issue of implementation of CAS. They emphasised that broadcasters should take the initiative to push STBs and not the service providers.

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