PCOs to get a new lease of life with 3G: Ericsson

New Delhi: Third generation (3G) services can give public calling offices (PCOs) a facelift with its owners offering features like video calling at cheap rates to its customers, reports PTI quoting telecom equipment maker Ericsson.

The Swedish firm has started a pilot project to demonstrate that PCO owners could use 3G services to offer video calling to its customers, who are often daily wage labourers who do not own a mobile phone.

"We noticed that people using PCOs are often migrants from smaller towns. They work on daily wages and depend on public booths to make calls since they can't afford mobile phones," Ericsson India vice-president (communications, corporate affairs and business development) P Balaji told PTI.

Through video calls, they not only get to talk but also see each other, which is a real value proposition, he added.

The pilot was conducted using eight PCOs equipped with 3G video phones spread in both urban and rural areas, focussing on a specific migrant corridor.

Asked if the company was in discussion with other operators, Mr Balaji said the company's focus remains on setting up infrastructure.

"We are discussing the pilot with various players telling them how such services at PCOs can act as a new stream of revenue generation. If any operator needs help, we would cooperate," he said.

According to data collected by the company, the number of PCOs in the country had reduced to 5.5 million (December 2009) from 6.1 million (March 2009).

The largest player in the segment is BSNL, which has about 1.92 million PCOs, followed by Reliance (1.8 million), Tata (1.5 million) and Bharti (0.10 million) and others.

"With increasing penetration of mobile phones, PCOs as a business is losing steam. But there is still a huge population which depends on PCOs and if video calling can be provided at cheap rates using 3G technology, it will be a new lease of life for them," Mr Balaji said.

State-run operators BSNL and MTNL, along with private player Tata Docomo are offering 3G services in the country.

Other operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular plan to start their services next year.


Montek moots “contract farming” tie-up in Oman

Dubai: Oman could strengthen domestic availability of foodgrains by entering into “contract farming” with Indian farmers, reports PTI quoting Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

He said that agriculture is an important area for Omani government to invest.

“Indian law does not allow foreign companies to buy land there and therefore, Omani companies can enter into a contract farming relationship for producing the type of crop they want,” Mr Ahluwalia told Times of Oman during his recent visit to the country.

“We have identified from our side a couple of companies that have indicated that they would be interested in tying up with Omani investors to get into contract farming arrangement,” he said adding that (Omani) companies can even specify the manner in which they want to produce the crop.

Mr Ahluwalia was in Muscat to sign an agreement to approve a report on nine areas of cooperation for direct investment between the two countries.

“We feel that there is scope for bringing Omani investment into (India) for producing rice through contract farming system,” he was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Mr Ahluwalia also noted that Oman India Fertiliser Company (Omifco), a joint venture equally owned by Oman and India, can be a vehicle of investment in fertiliser sector in a third country.

“We are interested in investing in fertiliser projects within India and outside. When we invest abroad, it is linked to availability of raw materials.

In the case of Oman, additional natural gas (feedstock) is not available. But it is available elsewhere.

However, it is up to the Omifco board to take a final decision,” he said.

He said that Omifco, which is an iconic venture for India, is keen to expand production capacity.

“It depends on whether additional gas can be made available to the project,” he said.


‘If people pay for music the industry will grow, otherwise it may die out’

Music makers are disturbed by the reduced revenues from royalties, mainly from FM stations. They are already suffering the impact of piracy and free downloads and they are worried that if this trend continues, many of them may have to shut down

As FM stations sulk over the Madras High Court's stay on the new royalty fee structure for radio stations, the music industry is getting increasingly apprehensive. In August, the Copyright Board announced that FM radio stations should pay 2% of their net advertising revenues as royalty to the music industry. This is a shift from the system in force since 2001, whereby FM stations paid music labels a fixed Rs850 per hour of music played on air, irrespective of the region of operation. Of this amount, Rs660 per needle hour is taken by the Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL). According to industry estimates, FM broadcasters paid Rs1.2 billion-or about 18% of their ad revenues-as music royalty in FY10. A 2% share would mean a payment of only about Rs135 million. Music labels, disappointed by the order which reduces the royalties they would receive, have challenged the recommendation in court. Savio D'Souza, secretary general of the Indian Music Industry, talked about this and some other issues that are worrying the music makers.

Moneylife (ML): Tell us about the new royalty fee structure that is about to come into force.
Savio D'Souza (SD):
After the first spectrum auction, it was decided that FM channels would have to pay a fixed rate to music companies for the raw material, that is, the music. So they had to pay Rs 660 per needle hour, which is the actual music time the music is played excluding the advertisements. That time there was a hue and cry because they thought that the rate was too high, but they had not taken advertisement revenue into account. Now, the Copyright Board has suddenly decided that the channels will pay 2% of net advertising revenue. This is definitely good news for them, but for us, it was a shock. I can understand their perspective, but then, we have our own concerns.

ML: What steps has the industry taken in this respect?
SD: Ten days ago, the Madras High Court issued a stay order on the Copyright Board's decision. (The court has issued notices to the FM stations on the petition by the music labels.)

ML: Was the earlier fee structure the same for all locations?
SD: Yes, the Delhi High Court had ruled that the same rates would apply to all cities. It may seem unfair, but when we have to buy music from a banner like Yash Raj Films, we have to pay a hefty amount. If the rates were to differ, it would have made our position very vulnerable.

ML: Is there any other concern?
Yes, because the concept of ad revenue is problematic. Many products/brands advertise on FM channels at a subsidised rate, through an understanding with the channels. Hence, this so-called ad revenue would be less, and we would get a microscopic sum. It may not affect the broadcasters, because they have other income sources and somehow the amount will be adjusted with the sponsors.
On top of that, we have companies and media houses which have their stake in FM channels or own them. Naturally, for them there will be no advertising cost in their own channels. And for the music companies, it will be a sour deal because they will not get any money.

ML: But with the new auction, which will enable FM expansion in tier-II and tier-III towns and include a large number of towns, will it not mean a boost for the music industry as well?
SD: Of course. But then it is debatable how adequate that compensation would be for the loss that will be incurred with the new royalty fee structure.

ML: What then will its impact be on the music industry?
SD: Of course, it will be a bleak future. Because on the one hand we will have the government interfering and telling us how I should sell the material to the FM stations, but there is no regulation when I buy music from the music makers. They will not give it to me in charity. It means double jeopardy, and I am afraid if nothing is done, the industry will collapse.

ML: Isn't piracy also a concern?
SD: Yes it is. We have everyone downloading music on their laptops and cell phones. Pirated CDs of the latest albums are available at every street corner. We have taken measures to combat piracy and we have registered cases against some companies. We have also talked about licensing, that is, getting these shopowners and mobile phone sellers, who download free songs for their customers, to register with us.

ML: Has it helped?
SD: The response has been encouraging. We have this new programme called mobile music exchange, the first of its kind in the world. We approached some mobile phone dealers in Andhra Pradesh, telling them that what they were doing was illegal. We asked them to register with us, and that with the license they could get access to our music. That has really clicked. Within one year, we have other dealers approaching us voluntarily.

ML: With 2010 drawing to a close, what can you say about the music industry's performance?
SD: It has not grown. This is a Rs600 crore industry, and it is facing many difficulties. If people are willing to pay for what they want to listen to, it will also nurture the industry. Otherwise, it may die out.




6 years ago

The business model of music selling has to change taking into account things such as piracy as well as listeners choice.
Earlier the business model was to include songs along with movies which ensured that at least the Film producer paid the music artistes/producers. Then came the concept of music videos and telecasting the videos on TV paid for the music.
I would suggest the following changes to the music industry model:
1. Stop releasing music CDs altogether. Release only online music with DRM (Digital rights management).
2. Establish tie-ups with various e-commerce sites to sell DRM music. Tie the song purchased to the user and allow repeated download of the same song by the same user. That way you are telling the users that they have purchased the music, not the medium (such as CD or cassette)
3. Have tie ups with various cellphone providers for paid downloading of music directly to mobile phones. Have a fixed cost per song rather than charge for bandwidth.
4. Have flexible rates depending upon popularity of song, date of release, quality of release (2 ch audio vs 5.1 ch audio) single vs album etc.
5. Allow download of free preview/partial songs to let the user know what he's buying.
6. Last, but not the least, charge reasonable rates for the music.

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