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New Trai tariffs amid broadcast turmoil?

Asian Age 2019-09-18 03:07:00
 The Indian broadcasting sector is in turmoil and looking at a reduced number of pay TV subscribers by millions after the announcement of a new consultation paper by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on the tariff order, barely six months after the New Tariff Order (NTO) was introduced in February this year.

Sources said the problem may be that the regulator does not go to the bottom of the issue on what caused the hike in consumer bills in the NTO.

New Delhi: The Indian broadcasting sector is in turmoil and looking at a reduced number of pay TV subscribers by millions after the announcement of a new consultation paper by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on the tariff order, barely six months after the New Tariff Order (NTO) was introduced in February this year.

Industry sources said the NTO was meant to be a game-changer for the sector by bringing in much-needed transparency, accountability and quality of service, by putting the consumer at the centre. However, there has been a hue and cry by consumers due to the increase in monthly subscriptions, putting the spotlight back on Trai, the broadcast sector regulator. This is also contrary to the oft-repeated claims by top Trai officials that the monthly subscriptions had come down.

Sources said the problem may be that the regulator does not go to the bottom of the issue on what caused the hike in consumer bills in the NTO. Data clearly shows that the hike in monthly subscriptions of `130 plus GST and another `20 extra for 25 additional channels are the direct reason for the spike.

The market at ground level also shows that subscribers, who are price conscious, feel they are shortchanged by distributors with the help of Trai by not only increasing their monthly subscriptions but also effectively reducing the number of TV channels available to them.

Under the old regime, distributors did not charge more than Rs 100 for a base pack, and also used to offer 150-odd channels. However, under the new regime, the total basic monthly payout gives only 100 FTA channels, and the distributors have the upper hand on what to offer.

It is felt cable operators did not heed the requirements of subscribers, but push their own set of TV channels which suits their business interests. Smaller regional and news channels who are the real voice of regions may have to shut as the distribution cost isn’t sustainable for them if Trai does not rein in cable operators, sources said.

It was believed by domain experts that if there are any changes to the contours of broadcast tariffs, it could have cataclysmic consequences for the state of the country’s cable and satellite television sector. KPMG’s latest report on the Indian M&E sector says the new regulatory framework has already reduced the number of pay TV subscribers by 12-15 million.

An international expert on the Indian broadcasting sector said the television sector was a creative one and should not be treated like a “service” sector by Trai. “Does Trai understand how the creative sector works? Or does it still deem broadcasting  a service, that was its mandate when it was given charge of regulating the telecom sector?”

A major grouse against the regulator is that it applies a disproportionate amount of regulation on broadcasters and distributors. While it “regulates” broadcast services like cable and DTH, it “controls” broadcasters. This raises the serious question about the intent and objective of the so-called independent regulator. The stakeholders have also raised questions about the mandatory carriage of Doordarshan channels as part of the 100 channels.