After the much-anticipated first phase of digitisation, Delhi and Mumbai are the two metros that have shown excellent results, with an estimated 97 per cent and 93 per cent homes showing digital penetration, respectively. After an initial setback, Kolkata, too, has taken the first steps to catch up with the two.
Meanwhile, the industry has already marched ahead to meet the deadline for Phase II (March 31, 2013) even as its stakeholders await the release of the TAM (Television Audience Measurement) data that will depict the viewership trends in Phase I, after 10 weeks of suspension.
Despite these hopeful trends, apprehensions persist about the future and manner of digitisation in the country. Kolkata is yet to get completely digitised and its success in conversion to a 100 per cent digital market will be revealed only after December 27 (if it is not delayed further). Chennai, on the other hand, remains stagnant at a discouraging 26 per cent digital penetration.
While Phase I was restricted to the four metros, Phase 2 involves 38 cities with a population of one million+ each. Industry representatives explain that even if the scale seems far larger in the second phase, the the number of subscribers involved remains approximately the same.
Despite the bottlenecks in the first phase, most of the industry is positive about the second phase of digitisation. The snafus in the first phase are being accepted as 'learnings' which will fuel a smoother switchover in Phase II.
Anil Malhotra, COO, Siti Cable, seconds this and says, "When we look forward to such a big transition, certain issues are bound to crop up. The best part is that we have overcome the obstructions and seen the complete digitisation of the two largest cities."
Harit Nagpal, president, DTH Operators Association and CEO, Tata Sky, suggests that what happened in Kolkata is 'just a little delay'. "The first phase was a step to gauge the reactions of the industry and the viewers to black-outs and other issues," he adds.
The postponement issue
Not everyone is enthralled with the pace at which the drama is unfolding. The Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) suggests that the whole exercise appears to be aimed at pushing the sale of STBs (Set Top Boxes) at a discount. The customer information forms are not being filled, it says, and there is no accountability of viewership. Even the digital billing of a majority of the newly installed STBs has not started. The association is concerned about the consequences of the inefficient execution of the first phase and questions the sensibility of rushing into the second phase in a similar manner.
Nagpal doesn't agree and argues, "What is the need to postpone the second phase of digitisation? The only part left out from the first phase is Chennai, which can happen along with Phase II."
Broadcasters, too, think that the second phase will go through quickly.
Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors, mentions that the experience of Phase I will help a smoother and more organised transition in the cities under Phase II consideration. "The deadline for the second phase should not be changed or delayed," he emphasises.
However, some planners and advertisers feel that Phase II is being pushed merely because the target date is set for March, 2013, and are apprehensive that the long term goal (of 100 per cent digitisation by 2014) may be sacrificed at the altar of short term targets. "If they keep pushing for the deadline, we might not see 100 per cent digitisation at the culmination date of 2014," says Vidhu Sagar, executive vice-president, Carat Media India.
Tariff in order
Though a few broadcasters still believe that the tariff order needs a few modifications, a major part of the industry has accepted it. The tariff order is close to the best possible format and meets the varied interests of different stakeholders, they say. "The best part of the order is that it is non-prescriptive since it is just a framework and the various stakeholders have to adjust themselves to it," says Nagpal.
It may be noted that the existing TRAI regulations and tariff orders are applicable to the second phase of digitisation, too.
The rollout apart, those involved are worried about the possibility of another blackout of TAM data, in addition to the 10-week phase that is just coming to an end. "In the haste to carry out Phase II, if we see another TAM black-out, which seems bound to happen, the industry might not be able to sustain the pain," thinks Mona Jain, CEO, VivaKi Exchange.
She points out that media agencies are still working on the September data, which is not a very good indicator. "We are ultimately working on the wrong ratings. Since the whole scenario is changed, we need some indication from TAM to decide the viewing patterns. We don't know even know the analogue and digital ratio in Chennai and Kolkata."
While the industry waits for a new picture of the digitised market, many planners admit that goes on even in the absence of data. "There aren't many advertisers who are so paranoid as to stop making plans based on the older data, while most of them are using their experience to take the decisions," believes Sagar.
All the same, never before have people in the business experienced have such intense TAM-withdrawal symptoms.