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COVER STORY / hEadEnd in ThE SkY

With the neW hitS platform, imCl’S tony D’Silva

iS Set to turn the Cable buSineSS on itS heaD

THE HITS MAN

little over two months

ago, the managing director and group Ceo of indusind media & Communications limited (imCl) was preoccupied with the usual anxieties of a multi-system operator (mSo): how to keep his cool, stay focused and expand his business. today, after a 15-month-long wait, tony D’Silva is back to his best and appears as motivated as ever.

last march, his company finally received the government’s permission for providing cable tv services through headend-in-the-sky (hitS) technology, a system developed to deliver signals to small cable headends that did not find it viable to install their own conditional access system (CaS). at the same time, the technology delivers a large number of pay television channels to a wider area and ensures digital delivery in the most effective and economical manner. “it’s been a long and gruelling wait for us. When we started the hitS project, the dollar rate was close to `43, now it is close to `60. and we are talking about invest-ments to the tune of 100 million dollars at stake,” says D’Silva, a broadcast veteran with over two decades of rich experience in media businesses. he previously held pivotal positions in Star tv and Zee tv and has also been the Ceo of modi entertain-ment and Sun tv.

D’Silva was roped in by hinduja ven-tures, the holding company of imCl, two years ago to drive its sunrise businesses such as hitS. imCl today has presence

A

Tony D’Silva at the IMCL digital headend in Mumbai across 36 major cities and offers over 350

channels in the digital mode and 90 chan-nels in analog to an estimated nine million subscribers. it has a backbone of over 10,000 kms of hybrid fibre optic network through which it also offers broadband services with its national iSp licence.

to design and deliver the hitS platform, the company last year appointed Castle media, a leading broadcast consultancy firm that has delivered cutting-edge pay tv platforms and services across asia. the technology firm will not only design the broadcast facility but also provide mission-critical delivery and project management support for the project.

“the whole hitS story is a technology story. it’s a story of how you can provide state-of-the-art technology that offers great value to the consumer by doing two simple things: let the local cable operator (lCo) take care of frontend of the business and leave the backend to us,” says D’Silva who is waiting for a few more clearances before it can start providing services by end of this year.

the target for imCl is really the third phase of digitisation of cable tv services where all urban areas in india migrate to-wards a digital addressable system (DaS) – ideally, September this year. the launch will also enable it to take on the fourth and final phase of DaS i.e. December next year. according to industry reports, the hits model will prove really beneficial to an lCo who will need to install conditional access systems at his headend for each pay channel, which roughly amounts to `20,000 per pay

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MaY 2014 | diGiTaL STUdiO

24

COVER STORY / hEadEnd in ThE SkY

converter (LNBs) followed by active splitters to feed a multitude of PIRD provided by the broadcasters.

A LNB is the receiving device mounted on satellite dishes used for satellite TV recep-tion, which collects the radio waves from the dish. Each LNB output received by indi-vidual MSOs or LCOs at their headend will be routed to a trans-modulator, a device that converts QPSK modulation, which is used in satellite transmission, to QAM modulation used in digital cable TV systems. Trans-modulators also process multiple transport streams simultaneously.

Cable operators now need only one or two trans-modulators per transponder for further retransmission through cable to individual subscribers with set-top boxes (STB). The output of the trans-modulator is an RF signal which is mixed with the analog free-to-air (FTA) channel using splitters and fed into the cable distribution system using fibre optics. The unit will have the capabil-ity to de-multiplex and re-multiplex the received TV signals to meet the packaging So, if this small-time operator were to

offer his consumers a choice of 100 pay chan-nels, the bare minimum investment required for him would be `20 lakh and even if he has 1,000 consumers, his recovery of capital cost will take over five years, by which time his equipment could probably go obsolete. Inci-dentally, there are about 6,000 independent operators and 60,000 LCOs and a majority of them are in phase III and IV.

With HITS technology, the digitisation and addressability can be achieved through-out the country in one shot that too at an investment far lower than what is required to establish terrestrial digital headends in each city. Currently, satellite communica-tion operator Noida Software Technology Park Limited’s JAINHITS is the sole HITS operator in the country.

TECHNICAL ARCHITECTURE

In the HITS system, signals of various chan-nels are received from their respective satel-lites at the centralised HITS uplinking facil-ity, which are decoded using professional grade integrated receiver decoder (PIRDs), each with the appropriate conditional ac-cess module (CAM) neac-cessary to receive each broadcast. While IRDs are electronic devices used to pick up a radio-frequency (RF) signal and convert digital information transmitted in it, CAM is a device that works as a slot for the smart card.

These signals then leave the IRDs as a digi-tal compressed but unencrypted digidigi-tal data stream. Each digitally compressed channel is now encrypted using a common encryp-tion system. Now an assortment of several such channel streams are multiplexed i.e. put into a single data stream and uplinked to a single satellite transponder in C-band frequency. The transponder signal is simply bounced back to earth over the transpon-der’s footprint.

The receiving system in IMCL’s HITS plat-form will consist of a dish farm having both fixed and steerable dish antenna to receive the various channels that form the package offerings of the HITS platform. Apart from the dish antenna, the sub-system will include the antenna drive and control units for the steerable antenna, low-noise block

down-“ConSiDering the neeDS

of laSt mile oWnerS in the

Country, the teChnology

faCilitateS a pay-aS-you-groW

Solution, alloWing them

to aDD on ServiCeS aS their

buSineSS DemanDS it.”

Vynsley Fernandes, director, Castle Media

18

broadband cities

860

MHz enabled network

3,

000

franchisees

3 mn

digital media subscribers

8.5 mn

households covered

10,000

Kms

of trunck and access HFC networks

2,000

Kms

of underground fibre network

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requirements of the cable operator. The pay channels are made available to the subscrib-ers only through de-encryption system of the set top box. In this system, a subscriber can exercise his choice of channels through the subscriber management system (SMS) maintained at the centralised facility.

The HITS broadcast centre will also have a facility to playout HD/SD content that will form part of the content bouquets. The setup will have facility to ingest, store, schedule and playout the content. It will also include the various glue and signal conversion equip-ment in the chain before being sent to the audio legaliser for level correction.

Apart from the playout system that will pro-vide content for inclusion as pay-per-view or near-on-demand content, the centre will also have facility for playout of a Mosaic channel for showcasing of active music or devotional content and for a Barker service channel for

playing commercials and offer promos. “The entire technology design philosophy is premised on ensuring the system is future-proofed and more importantly, modular. Considering the needs of last mile owners in the country, the technology facilitates a pay-as-you-grow solution, allowing them to add on services as their business demands it,” says Castle Media’s Fernandes.

To make maximum use of available satellite bandwidth, all SDI content will be compressed using MPEG-4 compression. The broadcast centre will also use 4in1 en-coders in an n+m redundancy to provide for back up. This type of configuration reduces the rack space required making room for expansion at later stage. The output of the encoders which is in IP format will be routed to the multiplexing stage through network switches with high throughput to ensure low latency of the signal.

The MPEG4 encoded channels are the combined into groups using statistical multiplexer to take maximum advantage of available bandwidth using the dynamic vari-able bit rate allocation for various channels in the bundle.

Based on the programme content of each individual TV channel, varying minimum bandwidth will be allocated on the multi-plexer to maintain integrity of the signal. As the bandwidth occupancy of a channel is dependent upon the content, it is vary-ing continuously. This varyvary-ing bandwidth requirement characteristic is harnessed by the statistical multiplexer to combine more number of channels into one transport stream for modulation in the next stage of signal processing.

The complete signal flow right from recep-tion at the broadcast centre to the uplink stage along with the associated equipment

blocK ScHEMATIc of IMcl HITS opErATIoNS

Amplifiers & Splitters Network Management System PIRD Legaliser Encoder Legaliser Encoder Web interface Mobile/SMS Scratch e-cards IVRS Call Centre IVRS Legaliser Encoder MUX MOD Monitoring Compliance recording MUX MOD Encoder PIRD CMS CMS CAS SMS Web interface to ISO Trouble Ticketing Field Service Management Asset Management Billing RF Shelter 1 RF Shelter 2 Tape Fixed Dish Steerable Dish Ingest 1+1 1+1 1+1 Downlink Satellite Satellite n+m Scheduling and Playout INDEX

CMS: Content Management System CAS: Conditional Access System SMS: Subscriber Management System CRM: Customer Relationship Management ISO: Independent Systems Operator IVRS: Interactive Voice Response System MUX: Statistical Multiplexers MOD: Modulator Fibre Channel

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MaY 2014 | diGiTaL STUdiO

26

COVER STORY / hEadEnd in ThE SkY

will be monitored using a network manage-ment solution that provides for visual and aural alarms as well as facility to switch from defective unit to the redundant unit either in auto or manual mode from a central location.

“The business support services (CRM, billing, call centre operations and service catalogues) and operations support services (conditional access systems) will form tools for the total network management. The ser-vices will be in line with current DTH service models including payment gateways, menu and service access points, and flexible billing services not only for video and VAS but also potential broadband rollout in future,” adds Fernandes.

THE SKY IS THE LIMIT

According to IMCL’s D’Silva, the LCO clearly stands to benefit from the HITS model because he doesn’t have to invest on the infrastructure or scout for means to develop a subscriber management system or encoun-ter financial audits by pay channels. He also stands the chance to supply high quality 300-500 channels in MPEG-4 capacity.

One of the big differentiators of IMCL’s HITS model would be its pre-paid approach. In the present regime, LCOs are the ones who collect money from the end-consumer on behalf of the MSOs. In the HITS, the MSO will offer a pre-paid arrangement where the end-consumer can avail the facility by pay-ing in advance either through e-coupons or scratch cards.

The pre-paid approach will also bring a certain amount of accountability into the system and encourage impulse buying. For instance, sports channel subscriptions are generally priced higher compared to general entertainment channels, but the fact is one doesn’t get to watch sports championship throughout the year. So the consumer has the option to buy a sports package only for a specific season. He doesn’t have to subscribe to the channel for an entire month. That also holds true for other major events like a beauty pageant.

“Fortunately, customers are now accus-tomed to pre-paid services offered by telecom operators and DTH players that alert the con-sumer about their bill status well in advance IMCL AVP Technical Vijay Prasad

inspects a digital TV process

Umesh Dalvi takes stock of the network on PSIgen console

IMCL technical team scramble local cable TV channels

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$100m

innvestm

ents ear

-marked f

or the H

ITS

launch

through text messages,” says D’Silva. The company will also ensure that LCOs pay for the STBs this time around. During the first and second phase of digitisation: most MSOs were forced to subsidise STBs so that LCOs could afford one. But at one par-ticular stage of the transition they realised that LCOs purchased the boxes at subsidised rates and sold it to customers at the maxi-mum retail price.

“My theory is very simple. If the customer is willing to pay for the service then why should we subsidise it? For those LCOs who don’t have upfront cash to buy these boxes, we will offer them flexible schemes like the cash-and-carry model where they come and purchase the boxes in smaller quantities,” adds D’Silva.

It’s not just the flexibility in the purchase of boxes that’s on offer. The company will only charge a fixed fee for the backend service and will leave the packaging and bundling for the LCO. The more he packages and bundles, the more he earns. In effect, IMCL acts like a white-label service provider as they play no role in the frontend service. That makes the LCO an independent operator.

In fact, it’s this approach that makes IMCL distinct from its only competitor, JAINHITS, which acts like any other MSO where it bundles and packages the service for LCOs. JAINHITS is also bound by a single condi-tional access (CA) vendor and cannot offer a variety of options to the LCOs like IMCL.

“Our platform will have multiple CA vendors, which will allow us to negotiate better on prices and will also offer the LCO a freedom of choice. So, a small LCO from a far-flung rural area has the op-tion to pick the low-cost CA and his counterpart in the semi-urban centre can choose a moderately priced CA depending upon his consumers,” points out D’Silva.

The HITS platform also has a few surprises in store for the end-consumer. As part of its value-added service, the company will offer ‘TV Everywhere,’ where the STB can facilitate TV viewing on tablets and

mobile phones. It will also venture into new areas such as home security where the consumer can monitor what’s happening in his house through his personal device and workstation, thereby radically changing the scope of television distribution business. BUSINESS RESTRUCTURING Early this year, IMCL introduced huge top management changes, which raised eyebrows across the television distribution business. In a bid to enhance synergy across its various media initiatives, the company

roped in Amar Chintopanth as the new group chief financial

officer, media, Hinduja Ventures. The company

also hired Rouse Koshy, a former Hathway hand, as head of operations IMCL and Aslam Mulla as its vice president, operations, west region.

IMCL is also in the middle of restructuring its digital headend network and increasing its pay TV channel distribution. The company pres-ently has 18 digital and 26 analog headends spread across 36 cities. While the analogue

heads are being upgraded to digital, the company is also planning to consolidate the number of its digital headends in order to get a better control and visibility of its network.

“We are looking at restructuring the whole design of our network so that we can bring down the number of headends and increase the number of channels and also have a better control,” says D’Silva while adding that his network currently shows 350 SD channels and 25 HD channels. The number will increase to 500 SD channels and 40 HD channels by the end of this month. Also on cards is a complete revamp of its local cable TV channels, where all local feed will come to the headend through IP, get scrambled and go back for relay. Every IMCL headend on an average hosts 12 to 15 local channels.

If the quality of its local cable TV channels improves, there is little doubt that it lead to a better interaction between the company and its enormous consumer base. If the idea of the HITS platform clicks, it will change the way TV channels reach the homes of consum-ers – we are talking about a world where in-stead of competing with the DTH players, the platform will skyrocket IMCL as the de-facto DTH operator for LCOs. But, more to the point, if HITS is a hit, it will revolutionise the way the cable TV industry does business. Few surviving racks of

an analog headend that will soon be upgraded

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