Radio phase III rollout: Industry prefers to listen, wait and watch

There are 40 million radio users in the four metros and over 250-300 million audiences across 80 towns. But with the government still undecided on the revenue structure, and the debate over royalty issues with the music industry embroiled in a suit, the phase III rollout has been deferred. Big players are treading cautiously now

While the industry waits for the rollout of the third phase of radio in India, sector experts say that it will be good to rein in the optimism.

Since the government's announcement about the rollout of phase III of radio in the beginning of 2010, the industry has been waiting. But with the government still undecided on the revenue structure, and the debate over royalty issues with the music industry (which escalated into a suit in the Madras High Court), the rollout has been deferred. The senior players present at the 'FICCI Frames 2011' conference, therefore, feel that the industry should plan a controlled expansion and should not be over-ambitious.

"Radio has gained popularity, and penetration is much better compared to newspapers or television channels", said LV Krishnan, CEO of media research firm TAM. There are 40 million radio users in the four metros and over 250-300 million audiences across 80 towns. As compared to a 95% reach of TV, radio also reaches out to 90%-95%, said Mr Krishnan.

 "With (the) phase III rollout, the sector will boom with 800 new channels in 300 towns, and the license period has been extended from 10 to 15 years. However, new players may bid over-enthusiastically and lead to increase in price," he said.

Tarun Katial, CEO, Reliance Broadcast Network Limited, said that the expansion will enable radio to cash in on the regional boom factor, like newspapers have done the last year. However, the strategy should differ according to the location.

"The spectrum auction will enable each station to own multiple frequencies," he said. "It should be remembered that more channels do not always mean better revenues. In small towns, more than five to six channels will not be possible, and it will not be necessary to have all the program formats there," Mr Katial added.

There are other worries as well. Radio listernship has shown a decline of nearly 6% in the third quarter instalment of the Indian Readership Survey this year. Following the 2G spectrum scandal, the government has become stricter about auctioning of radio spectrum, and has also refused to increase the ceiling for FDI (foreign direct investment) beyond 20%.

As Harrish Bhatia, CEO, My FM pointed out, it takes three years on an average for a radio venture to break even. But though the existing biggies in the field have done extremely well and absorbed most of the revenues, many more have broken down before breaking even.

Rahul Gupta, director of Radio Mantra, said, "We find very few players who operate exclusively in the radio space." Unsurprisingly, radio ventures which are associated with print or digital media houses have been the ones to succeed-like Radio Mirchi of ENIL, which is a part of Times Group, BIG FM and regionally-focussed Radio Mantra, which is part of Dainik Jagaran group.

Salil Pitale, executive director, investment banking, Enam Securities, said, "The real worry, for me, is the lack of exit options for financial investors." The best thing to do is have the rollout as soon as possible, he said. "2010 has been a year of waiting. Let's hope 2011 does not go the same way," he added.

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Digitisation of cable TV network: So near yet out of view

The TRAI, TV channels, MSOs and LCOs, all want to make digital cable TV broadcasting a reality in India. Yet, they are blaming each other for the delay and 'manipulation' in pricing and reporting of false subscriber numbers. In the end, it's the viewer who is denied a better experience

They all want to implement it and are still finding it very difficult to come together on a single platform. This is the story of the digitisation of cable TV in India. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) wants digitisation to be implemented in four phases, broadcasters and distributors, including multi-services operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs) expect the government to issue an order for the immediate implementation of digitisation of cable TV.

It's a different matter, that the broadcasters, MSOs and LCOs are at loggerhead and each wants the other to bear the cost for digitisation. Unfortunately, this has resulted in viewers being denied a better experience to watch and listen to super quality telecast.

These differences between the regulator, broadcasters and operators were out in the open during a discussion at the FICCI FRAMES convention on Wednesday-Thursday. Last month, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), while accepting the recommendations made by TRAI, deferred the timeline to March 2015 from December 2013.

In August 2010, TRAI had recommended implementing the complete digitisation of cable TV network, or complete switchover from analog to digital, by December 2013, in four phases. The first phase, to be completed by March 2011 (then moved by the I&B further to March 2012), will cover the four metros, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai.

In the second phase, digitisation would be implemented in all cities which have a population of over 10 lakh, by December 2011 (again shifted further to March 2013). The third phase would be completed by December 2012 (moved back to November 2014) and will cover all urban areas having municipal corporations. The last phase will witness digitisation in every part of the country by December 2013 (now moved by the I&B to March 2015).

Participating in a discussion on 'Confronting Realities In Television: Crossing Over Regulatory Hurdles', George Elias, principal advisor for broadcast and policy, TRAI, said, "TV has become the single source of information in the country and it is necessary for the regulator to make sure it is available at reasonable price to everyone in the country."

"TRAI is open for co-regulation of this industry, but all players like broadcasters, MSOs and LCOs are not united. There are over 50,000 cable operators in the country, while the number of broadcasters is around 500-600. In a democratic system, the number of cable operators outbid the number of broadcasters and it may appear that we are taking sides, but this is not the case," he added.

TV Today Network, represented by G Krishnan, its executive director and chief executive, was very vocal in protesting the role and need of a regulator in the TV business. He said that the "involvement of a regulator has put the brakes on the TV industry's growth. Inaction by the regulator, especially on the pricing, is making us to earn revenues. I feel the regulator should let the subscribers decide on content and pricing."

Earlier, Aroon Purie, chairman and editor-in-chief, India Today group, labelled the government's behaviour on the matter as 'dumb, deaf and blind'. "Cable TV is not an essential commodity, so, why then does the government want to control prices, that too when they (the government) had not invested a single paisa in this business," he asked.

Cable TV has become a distorted business model, especially for broadcasters, he said. Today, subscribers pay around Rs20,000 crore, out of which only Rs4,000 crore reaches the broadcasters. "Broadcasters are spending huge money on carriage fees, content generation and talent, why then don't we get our right share in the subscription amount collected by cable TV operators? Going forward, I think, digitisation will help increasing bandwidth, remove carriage fees and bring accountability and transparency in this business," Mr Purie said.

In the absence of an addressable system, the subscription revenue transaction between the broadcasters, MSOs and LCOs is undertaken either on a fixed-fee basis or on the basis of a negotiated subscriber base. Considering the strong bargaining power enjoyed by LCOs who own the last mile, the distribution of subscription revenue in effect remains heavily skewed in their favour. According to estimates, LCOs declare only around 15% of their paid connectivity to MSOs and broadcasters.

This not only deprives the MSOs and broadcasters of their fair share of value, but also results in service tax leakage for the government. The lack of trust and transparency in the business models of the industry has also led to frequent disputes between stakeholders and increased litigation incidences.

Regretting that over the years cable operators were being sidelined from FICCI FRAMES, Ashok Mansukhani, director, Indusind Media and Communications (IMCL), said, "During 2002, MSOs and LCOs have already suffered due to non-clarity in the conditional access system (CAS). This time also the cable industry is ready to invest in digitisation, but we need more clarity from the regulators and broadcaster on revenue sharing."

The cable and satellite television market in India had emerged in the 1990s and has since then experienced strong growth, in terms of number of subscribers having grown from a mere 4 lakh in 1992 to around 9 crore today-a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35% over the last 18 years. With a share of roughly 40%, the television industry accounts for the largest share in the roughly Rs70,000 crore Indian entertainment and media industry, followed by print, film, radio and other media.

Currently, the television distribution network in India-catering to around 140 million television homes-is predominantly of analog type with over 60% subscribers belonging to this category, while the digital cable subscriber base remains low at around 4.5 million television homes. There are around 50,000 LCOs and 1,000 MSOs, including about 10 major MSOs in India.

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Google salutes Bollywood through a doodle on Alam Ara, India’s first talkie

While Google is commemorating the first Indian talkie, Alam Ara, unfortunately, there is not a single print of the movie available today

Internet search giant Google has created a doodle (design weaved in the Google name) on its search page dedicated to India's first talkie (a movie with sound), Alam Ara. About 80 years ago, on 14 March 1931, Alam Ara ('The light of the world'), was released at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai. The movie directed by Ardeshir Irani became an instant hit and went on to become so popular that the theatre had to call the police to control the crowd!

However, while Google is celebrating 80 years of India's first talkie, according to media reports, there is not a single print of the movie available. In 2003, Alam Ara's last print was destroyed in a fire at the National Film Archive of India in Pune along with several classics like Raja Harishchandra and Achhut Kanya.

According to Wikipedia, both the movie and its music were widely successful, including the hit song 'De de khuda ke naam per', which was also the first song of Indian cinema, and was sung by actor Wazir Mohammed Khan who played the role of a fakir in the film. As playback singing had yet to start in Indian cinema, it was recorded live with musical accompaniment of a harmonium and a tabla.

The film also marked the beginning of film music in Indian cinema as noted film director Shyam Benegal said, "It was not just a talkie. It was a talking and singing film with more singing and less talking. It had a number of songs and that actually set the template for the kind of films that were made later."

During the production of Alam Ara, Mr Irani handled the sound-recording department, using the 'Taran Sound System'. It was shot with the Tanar single-system camera, which recorded sound directly on to the film. Since there were no soundproof studios available at that time, the shooting was done mainly at night, to avoid daytime noises, with microphones hidden near the actors.

Alam Ara is a story between a prince and a gypsy girl. It is a period fantasy that tells the story of the ageing king of Kamarpur, and his two rival queens, Navbahar and Dilbahar, and their rivalry when a fakir predicts that Navbahar will bear the king's heir. Dilbahar, in revenge, attempts to have an affair with the kingdom's chief minister Adil. The affair goes sour and a vengeful Dilbahar imprisons him and exiles his daughter, Alam Ara (Zubeida). In exile, Alam Ara is brought up by gypsies.

Upon returning to the palace at Kumarpur, Alam Ara meets and falls in love with the charming young prince (Master Vithal). In the end, Adil is released, Dilbahar is punished and the lovers marry.

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