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May 10, 2002 | 1935 IST
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Zee comes out in support of CAS

Bipin Chandran & Bhupesh Bhandari

Coming out openly in support of the conditional access system-based cable TV distribution, Subhash Chandra, chairman of Zee Networks, today said the broadcasters could expect their subscription revenues to go up from Rs 6 billion in 2001-02 to Rs 40 billion in the next five years, with the implementation of the system.

Talking about his own subscription revenues, Chandra said it should rise from Rs 1 billion in the last financial year to Rs 6-7 billion over the next five years.

"The introduction of CAS would be a good development for broadcasters, multi-system operators, cable operators and subscribers. I think the revenues of broadcasters, MSOs and cable operators would go up considerably," Chandra said.

Chandra's endorsement comes after several broadcasters expressed their reservations about the benefits of CAS. "Consumers are being made to believe they will pay less, while they will actually pay more for watching less," Star India's chief executive, Peter Mukerjea, told Business Standard.

It is worth noting that Chandra is not only a broadcaster but also an MSO with his Siti Cable network. Broadcasters and MSOs have for long been complaining that cable operators have been short-changing them by understating their cable connection numbers. The CAS could rectify the situation, they said.

Chandra also called for broadcasters, cable operators and the MSOs to come together to finance the implementation of the CAS. "In an ideal situation, the operators in the broadcasting game should come together and help move to the CAS system," he pointed out.

It is estimated that moving over to the CAS will require investment to the tune of Rs 80 billion for the set-top boxes by individual consumers and about Rs 4 billion by cable operators for upgrading their equipment.

"We are in talks with set-top box manufacturers and banking and financial institutions to work out financing of this huge investment. It is important to find a viable way of financing," Chandra said.

On asked about the plans of Zee Network for CAS-based distribution, Chandra said Zee Network will offer a bouquet of free-to-air channels and pay channels as part of its strategy in the CAS space. "We will have to offer the consumers various tiers of channels, which includes free-to-air and different tiers of pay channels," he said.

He also ruled out Zee converting its paid channels to free-to-air channels as a result of the introduction of CAS.

"We have started talks with cable operators, MSOs and broadcasters to look into the various issues. We are finalising our strategy," he said, adding that the company was in the process of finalising the fee structure for the different tiers of channels.

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