The government has cleared an ordinance to completely digitise the Rs 20,000-crore cable and satellite television industry in the country by 2014. Meghna Sharma discusses the challenges ahead with Chris Brown of the US-based National Association of Broadcasters, which played an important role in digitisation of TV services in the United States.
Almost every household in India has a television set, and of them more than half have cable connections. To go digital by 2014, India can learn a few lessons from the US, which switched from analog to digital broadcasting in 2009. According to Chris Brown, executive vice-president, Conventions and Business Operations at National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), one has to meet a lot of challenges while making the transition.
What is the scope of NAB in the broadcast industry of today?
NAB is very global. One-third of our business comes out of the US. For us, it’s dual focus in India. We want to raise awareness about our event and brand and look to encourage people to come to the US. Also, we are increasingly looking at opportunities to work with people specifically in key markets and India could figure somewhere in the future. We have had representation here for four to five years.
In the US, the number one objective is to work with the US government to make sure that the regulation and legislative policy is positive for the broadcast sector. It’s going back and forth on some technical issues like use of spectrum or just talking about advertising and approach policy etc. Sometimes the government tries to get into the business, so we try to help our members. We were very involved in the US digital television transition, particularly communicating to consumers what was going to happen, and what it would mean to them. In the end, it went extremely well.
NAB intends to venture into the content domain next year. What are the newest tools and techniques of content creation and distribution that will be showcased at the NABshow in Las Vegas?
We are trying to put together a full and effective market. Companies which really want to come and display products will be given the opportunity to do so on a conventional floor in a typical fashion. We also have a theater to give them an opportunity to screen their content with highend technology. We need to do some direct match-making, finding companies upfront and what their targets and objectives are on both sides – buyers and sellers – and then find out whom we can match up, who have intersecting objectives and interests.
One of the building blocks in this 90-year-old organization is about bringing technology together with distributors and also core television groups. Asia and Latin America are part of these objectives so we have to do some outreach in those regions. We are here because India is a content source in all platforms.
The government of India has just cleared an ordinance to completely digitise the Rs 20,000-crore cable and satellite television industry in the country by 2014, which will require a lot of technological and logistic support. What would be the challenges faced by the Indian broadcasters and the government?
Communication is the key point here. One has to make sure that the consumer understands what’s going to happen. Because, the last thing you need is that you have made the switch and people have lost their services and don’t know what they should do next. Another important issue is who’ll bear the cost of the set-top box which is required after digitization. It should be discussed whether the government and the industry are working together on it, and who will provide subsidized convertor boxes as everyone may not be able to afford it. It is difficult as there might be issues about who’ll bear the cost – the industry, the government or will it be done jointly or will it be borne by the consumer? And the most important thing is sticking to the deadline. Parties involved should know that no matter what happens, the switch should happen on a particular date.
What are your views about Indian television and radio stations?
I’m coming back after three years and it’s amazing to see the rate at which it’s growing. The Indian broadcasting industry is more sophisticated and as the world has discovered, all the major players, one way or the other, have found their way into the mix. The companies here have done well in reaching out and building strategic alliances on all the key platforms – some even with exclusive arrangements. For us the vibrant market is very crucial; and from big screen (films) to the smallest (mobile phone), it is important, as a lot is going on these platforms as well. Global distribution is something which every company wants and from our standpoint, there aren’t many markets which have the same passion or growth rate. That’s why in the long run, India is very important. We wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t true.