Set-top box scramble after T20 blank-out

Calcuttans have been dashing to get their hands on a set-top box after leading MSOs blanked out analogue feed of channels beaming Tuesday's India-Pakistan T20 match.

The deadline for the digital switch in the city was December 27 but many subscribers were in no hurry to buy set-top boxes as the analogue feeds were still being aired, because the state government had warned of a "law-and-order" situation if these were suddenly taken off air, said sources.

Following a directive from the Centre threatening to cancel the licences of MSOs if they fail to stop analogue feed, the operators have started to blank out such feed, one channel at a time. The ESPN-STAR Sports broadcast was Tuesday's casualty.

On Tuesday, a frantic search by fans led most to the cable operator's channel, where a pirated and poor quality beam was on. For many cable homes, however, not even that was available.

"The India-Pakistan T20 was crucial for the Calcutta cable industry. It showed that the law-and-order situation, which the government claimed would suffer if digitisation was forced on people, was actually not such a big factor," said an MSO executive.

Many subscribers are now scrambling to get their hands on a set-top box, without which they are set to miss out on Friday's India-Pakistan clash as well, said a source.

For most MSOs, the first to go were channels beaming English movies, followed by entertainment and kids' channels. Next came the English news channels, sports channels and Hindi news channels.

GTPL-KCBPL has even withdrawn the popular Hindi general entertainment channel, Colors, to show customers it means business.

After the late surge for set-top boxes, unofficial sources put the digitisation figure at 65 per cent (around 27 lakh).

"We always knew this (taking analogue channels off one by one) was the right way to go about the business but the Bengal government had asked us not to tamper with the analogue feed," said the managing director of an MSO. "The ministry of information and broadcasting has now made us sign a document to switch off analogue channels by December 27, failing which they could cancel our licences."

"It was necessary for all concerned here to portray to Delhi that we are not taking digitisation lightly," he added.

The MSOs might switch off all analogue feed sometime between January 10 and 15. "We had written to the state and the Centre telling them it would benefit us if they spoke amongst themselves and gave us a proper date to work with. Neither has got back to us. So, we are working on a date ourselves and it (the complete switch to digital) should be between January 10 and 15," said the director of an MSO.

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