The Financial Express

Behind 'blackout' of foreign TV channels

Behind 'blackout' of foreign TV channels

Ever since the arrival of television in people's drawing rooms in the 60's, it has undergone radical transformation. From black to colour, from box shape to flat screen, from light emitting diode (LED) to organic light emitting diode (OLED) to quantum light emitting diode (QLED). Some of these are smart TVs with high definition pictures.

However, it was not until the world famous television programmes had been screened, did people know the exceptional level of experience of entertainment and enlightenment. Whether it is a sport programme or a documentary on the animal world, they are so superbly made that the spectators become one with the amazing scenes displayed before their eyes. Even the travel shows -- both of the lighter vein and concerning serious matters -- are not only purely entertaining but also highly educative. TV spectators have become accustomed to enjoying such programmes with the arrival of cable TV channels. But suddenly and abruptly most such channels have gone off the screen. Why? Because the providers of the service are unwilling to go by the law the government first enacted in 2006 and gave its detailed shape in 2010 for application at the field level. But not before a couple of years ago did the government make a serious effort for the law's implementation.

In the Act, there is no ambiguity about the screening of foreign TV channels and programmes. Here comes the issue of what is called 'clean feed', meaning telecasters or service providers can show their programmes without advertisements. Here advertisements shown on foreign channels are considered with reservations. These are not sponsored here but are shown without payment of tariff to the government. No government can allow this. In smaller countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, foreign channels do not enjoy the luxury of providing programmes interpolated with ‘unclean’ feed or unsponsored ads.

In fact, foreign channels are not so much to blame as the local telecasters and providers here are. Of the 4,000 such providers, reportedly1,200 can downlink the programmes directly from satellite and supply to the rest. Now there is the option of downlinking the 'clean feed'. In that case, the telecasters and service providers have to pay more than if they accept the 'blemished feed'.

Commercial interests apart, the main problem here is that the providers of cable connections still maintain the analogue system which is obsolete now and do not have the capacity to select between the clean and 'unclean' feed. To go digital, their subscribers will also have to procure set top box and this will cost them between Tk 1,500 to 2,500 each. Under the analogue system, there is even no knowing how many subscribers are there to the cable service in the country. If digitised, there will be no way of tinkering with the figures of subscribers and the government will not be deprived of its share of the revenue.

The cable operators are in no mood to go digital also because they fear that the number of their subscribers will drop if the latter are asked to pay for the set top box to be installed at their homes. Maybe, the number will come down slightly but this cannot be an excuse for not going digital when the country has opted for an all-round digitisation. Moreover, it will give a far better quality of TV viewing.

The service providers got enough time ---about two years during which time the government reportedly held a series of meetings with the Cable Operators Association of Bangladesh (COAB) ---for updating their machines and equipment. According to a report carried in a Bangla contemporary, transformation of the system from analogue to digital will require $150-180 million over a period of three to six months.

Intriguingly, cable operators are maintaining an eerie silence. Those who can downlink seem to have expressed their solidarity with the rest having no such technological help. Even the only DTH (direct to home) provider is yet to take any initiative for showing the popular channels without advertisements. Those telecasters and service providers along with the DTH provider who can downlink foreign 'clean feed' programmes are not doing so. This is a total breach of contracts between them and the subscribers. They are obliged to go by their declared business deals under which subscribers had access to 70-120 channels but now to only a few.

Although the pandemic is on its way to disappear, many people, particularly the aged, still feel uncomfortable to go out. For them, TV is the only medium of entertainment and means of passing time. The sports channels are highly popular among both young and old segments of society. Then channels like Discovery, Discovery Science, National Geographic, Animal Planet are highly fascinating because of their delving deep into the mystery of both the animal world and the planet Earth along with the cosmos. Children and youths get inspired by such programmes to become sportspersons, scientists, explorers and many more. In the absence of such channels, the impressionable minds can deviate from the healthy to unhealthy digital temptations.


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