New Delhi, Sep 27 (IANS) No more pixelated, grainy pictures on your TV. In just over a month, four Indian metropolises - around 10 million households - will switch over to the digital television mode that promises super-clear picture quality and scores of channels to boot.
The government is pushing for complete digitisation of the cable television network and, as a first step, the four metros of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai will go digital by Oct 31. In the rest of the country, the process is to be completed by December 2014.
Around 70 percent of the cable TV network in the four cities has been digitised so far, with the maximum in Mumbai where over 95 percent has been completed.
TV owners will have to buy set top boxes - costing between Rs.800-Rs.1,000 - to receive the signals.
"The four metros are almost nearing digitisation...digitisation is an idea whose time has come," Supriya Sahu, joint secretary in the ministry of information and broadcasting and in charge of the project, told IANS.
"Digitisation has become critical because if cable operators don't digitise they will face competition from DTH (direct to home) providers," Sahu said, adding that digitisation was "proceeding at a rate of one million a month".
"If cable digitisation does not happen, DTH could capture the market. The cable TV operator has no option but to adopt digitisation in order to be relevant and to provide good service," she added.
The analog system of cable TV, which has been in use for the past two decades, will end as the digital addressable system (DAS) comes into force from Oct 31 in the four metros.
The digital revolution in the cable TV network will have another added benefit - television screens will not blip off during rain or stormy weather - a feature that affects DTH television.
"Cable transmission is not through satellite, hence it is not affected by any disruption due to rain or bad weather," Sahu said.
Digitisation of cable services was made mandatory through the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act of November 2011. The original act was passed in 1995.
After the four metros, cities with a population of more than one million like Pune, Ahmedabad and Bangalore will begin phasing out of the analog system. The process is to be completed in the entire country by Dec 31, 2014.
According to Sahu, India has 146 million television homes, of which 51 percent receive cable TV. Of the rest, 25 percent homes have DTH and the balance have DTH of the state-owned Doordarshan or get Doordashan signals terrestrially through old-time antennas.
To receive the digital signals from the satellite, the Multi System Operators (MSOs) or the cable companies have to install a "digital headend", said Sahu. From 70-100 channels at present, operators will be able to provide up to 1,000 channels.
According to a directive of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), after digitisation, TV viewers will get a minimum of 100 Free to Air (FTA) channels at a maximum price of Rs 100. This bouquet of channels would include 18 mandatory Doordarshan channels, including the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels. The rest must comprise at least five channels of each genre - namely, news and current affairs, infotainment, sports, children, music and regional.
The subscriber can choose the channels he/she wants.
TRAI has also directed that the prices of a-la-carte channels beyond the bouquet should be kept low.
S.N. Sharma, chief executive officer of Den Networks, one of the country's largest with a pan-Indian presence, said they are in the process of finalising the number of channels and the prices and would come out with a package "very soon".
"We will have different packages. A subscriber who today gets 75 odd channels will get more than 250 odd channels to choose from. We won't hassle the consumers. They can pick and choose," Sharma told IANS.
Den Networks, an MSO which has subscribers all over India, has completed almost 60 percent of digitisation, said Sharma.
Den Networks has spent around Rs.350 crore-Rs.400 crore on digitisation, said Sharma, adding that all MSOs had spent similar amount on the process.
The raising of the FDI limits in the broadcast sector to 74 percent from 49 percent, announced last week, has also been beneficial to the service providers, said Sharma.
"It is good for the general business environment," he added.
India has 839 television channels - 407 news channels and 432 non news channels, according to the information and broadcasting ministry.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)