As the set deadline of June 30 for television digitisation approaches, authorities are confident that the same will be met, the challenges before the industry notwithstanding. On the opening day of FICCI Frames 2012/03 in Mumbai, a panel discussed the upcoming digital switchover, and how the country is well poised to face hurdles on the way, chin up.
The panel comprised Dr J S Sarma, chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India; Uday K Varma, secretary, Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; Sanjay Gupta, chief operation officer, STAR India; Sameer Manchanda, chairman and managing director, DEN Networks; Sunil Lulla, chief executive officer and managing director, Times Global Broadcasting; and Punit Goenka, managing director and chief executive officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprise.
Sarma began by asserting that digitisation is essential for the country, not just for distribution but to also be technologically up to date. He noted that while India has witnessed healthy growth, it remains vulnerable when it comes to communication.
"Technology is growing rapidly. The needs of the people are growing as well. The mobile segment will not be able to deliver the communication needs on its own. It is in this context that digitisation needs to be viewed," said Sarma.
He spoke about the tremendous opportunities in the rural segment, which have not been tapped yet, and said that further opportunities are revealed by trends such as dropping sales of analogue televisions, growth of DTH and growing per capita income.
"If 200 million people with growing incomes consume Rs 500 per month, it means Rs 12 lakh crore for the industry. For digitisation, we need Rs 40,000 crore. If people still have doubts over digitisation from a business point of view, I have nothing to say," Sarma said.
Sarma, apparently confident about the industry's capacity to dream and deliver, closed his address with the remark that he hoped 2012/03 would be the last year for FICCI Frames in an analogue environment.
Varma of the I&B Ministry began his address with the remark that the idea of digitising the cable industry was never in question and as far as digitisation is concerned, there is no political opposition.
"In terms of what the government has to do, not much remains to be done. However, at the end of the day, it is the fulfilment of objectives that matter. Hence, I hope this is seen as a true public-private partnership," he said.
"We are committed and determined. June 30 is not an unrealistic deadline and it is possible to achieve this milestone. To say that there would not be issues would be unrealistic but we have a robust mechanism to take care of it," added Varma.
Varma said that while the revenue ministry is concerned about the possible losses to the country's exchequer, the issues are being addressed. He stressed that the concerns of the consumer must be addressed as top priority.
"We need to ensure that digitisation is accepted by people at large. It is critical. There is no reason why people do not want it, particularly in the metros. All of us have to ensure any misgivings of the consumer are addressed quickly," Varma said.
Closing his address, he said that the country is certainly on the threshold of a revolution where large changes will take place in a much wider sense and will re-script the way one looks at business models.
In the discussion that followed, each of the panellists representing the industry offered opinions on the matter. Manchanda said that digitisation indeed would prove to be a game changer and is a big event. "We believe in digitisation. We have our boxes ready. It was only in December that the act was cleared. Expect more momentum in the next few months," he said.
Talking on challenges in terms of content, Gupta said keeping the consumer at the centre, the actual game changer would be the democratisation of content.
"Are we carrying out analogue mindsets into a digital world?" he asked.
As a cheeky remark, Gupta said that the only difference DTH has brought is a different first name of a 'Khan' (referring to the actors who endorse various DTH brands) and not value to the customer. "It is not an ideal situation where differentiation is the key," he said, hinting at the lack of creativity on the part of broadcasters.
Goenka of ZEEL noted that digitisation will bring opportunities where niche content will find a lot of ground and will lead to truly entertaining and engaging content.
Lulla of Times Global Broadcasting brought up another important issue as he said how he wants to stop carrying the 50 paise in his pocket. Referring to the low charges levied by cable operators, he said that 50 paise is all it takes to enjoy an hour of TV, calling it the cheapest business. He called upon the need for the business to deliver more than what it does right now, to further ensure better investment in content.
The panellists stressed on the need to educate the consumer and increase awareness. Goenka said that Zee has already set the ball rolling.
Referring to essays from the London School of Economics, Varma said that the common perception is that India cannot become a superpower because of its failure to create employment. He emphasised on the implication of digitisation on employment.
As the discussion was being wrapped up, Gupta remarked how he is of the view that digital is here to stay. The fundamental job on the part of the industry and consumers is to change and embrace the same.