Spam Enters Indian TV Broadcasting



From July 14, 2003, Indian Media Industry will enter a new phase..The era of CAS or the Conditional Access System. From this date, Cable TV viewers in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, will have to use the set top box to get "Pay Channels". The free to air channels will be available at a monthly access fee of RS 72/-.

The Conditional Access Bill which was passed in December in the Parliament even while the Communication Convergence Bill is pending, has been hailed by some as a "boon" to the Indian TV viewers. This expression has been made in the context of Cable TV distributors charging upto RS 250 to 300 per month to air all the channels at present some of which may be "Unwanted Channels" for a particular segment of population.

However, this service requires the consumer to pay around Rs 6000/- for purchase of set top box (Or a monthly additional rent of Rs 175 or there abouts in lieu there of) and  a further sum every month to get specific channels. Obviously, the total cost of access would not be much different from the present cost which the Cable TV operator is charging and can even be more.

There is also no guarantee that the set  top boxes will work free of trouble and the consumer would get an uninterrupted service for the money he pays.

What is more intriguing is that the Indian CAS will be different from the systems available in other countries since the paid channels will continue to advertise on their channels. There was a brief moment hen the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Ms Sushma Swaraj made a statement that the Pay Channels will have to cease using advertisements. She has subsequently been silent indicating that the commercial interests have silenced her pro-consumer statement which is logical and needs immediate compliance.

In the Internet world, we are familiar with the term "Spam" which is considered an evil practice and is a declared offence under the Cyber Laws of many countries. (Not in India, so far). The difference between unsolicited postal mail and e-mail is that the consumer directly pays for the e-mails that he receives and if the spam content of his mail box is 100 times the genuine mail (Current position in India for those who use e-mail IDs of VSNL), then it is impossible for him to accept such intrusion.

There is a demand even in India that "Spam" must be banned and made punishable.

At this juncture, it is necessary for us to remember that the advertisements that appear in "Pay Channels" of Cable TV will now onwards be equivalent to "Spam". As it is, the ad content of any programme on TV is nearly 33%  (10 minutes for a 30 minute slot).

Those who watch Cricket would perhaps appreciate that advertisements have grossly reduced the quality of the basic programme since on an average every over which takes around 3 minutes has a 60-75 second commercial break. Add to this the ads whenever a wicket falls or whenever there is a natural break such as due to drinks or injury or dog intrusion etc, the total ad content is nearly 50 % of the main content.

It is impossible for consumers not to protest against this commercial onslaught unless of course the service is coming free.

If Spam is bad on Internet, it is also bad on TV. While I the consumer can delete a spam mail at a click of a button or by using a spam filter, he will be forced to view the spam advertisements on the TV and hence TV Spam is more objectionable than the Internet Spam.

I therefore urge Ms Sushma Swaraj to take up the issue once again and ensure that the pay channels drop advertisements or convert themselves into Free to air channels.

In Chennai ( may be at other cities also) a people's movement is gathering to promote subscription of only free to air channels under the leadership of the noted social worker Mr M.B.Nirmal of Exnora. It is perhaps necessary for them to add the agenda of "Free of Advertisement Pay Channels" to their current agenda of "More Channels in the Free to Air Category". In fact, if advertisements are cut off from pay channels, most of them would automatically convert themselves into pay channels and the objectives of the Cable TV Consumer associations would be automatically served.


May 12,2003


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