The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or TRAI has revamped the entire regulatory structure of the broadcasting, cable TV and DTH industry in India, dealing with issues such as carriage fee, channel prices and channel availability.
Once digitized, all channels (pay and free-to air) have to be offered on a-la-carte, or individual, basis to subscribers, TRAI said.
There will be a Basic Service Tier (BST) consisting of a minimum of 100 free-to air (FTA) channels for Rs 100.
It is up to the consumer to pick and choose which 100 free channels he wants to watch for Rs 100 per month. In other words, he can make his own ‘basic package.’
He can also ask the cable operator to provide a pre-designed ‘basic tier’ with 5 channels of each genre — news and current affairs, infotainment, sports, kids, music, lifestyle, movies and general entertainment in Hindi, English and regional language of the concerned region.
However, if he or she wants pay channels, the minimum is Rs 150, TRAI added.
“In case subscriber chooses Pay channel(s) with or without FTA channel(s) the MSO can fix a minimum monthly subscription not exceeding Rs. 150/-. If the total value of the channels/ bouquets opted by the subscriber exceeds Rs. 150/- then actual subscription charges have to be paid,” TRAI said.
For consumers, the new regulations mean that soon, their cable networks will support a minimum of 500 channels — and they will more or less be able to pay only for the channels they watch.
In its new regulations, coming two months before the first phase of cable digitization kicks in in the cities, TRAI mandated a minimum capacity of 500 channels in the new system.
Currently, most cable networks have about 300 channels. Digitization is expected to increase their capacity to about 1000-1500.
There is more good news in the new regulations for the broadcasters (channel owners) than for owners of cable TV and DTH networks.
Primarily, the TRAI has ‘legalized’ carriage fee — a hitherto secretive practice in which cable and DTH operators used to take money from channel owners to carry particular channels, or to place a channel near another etc.. However, carriage fee can only be demanded from a channel owner if he is trying to ‘push’ his channel onto a cable network, not otherwise.
While many channel owners have been urging the regulator to simply ban carriage fee — which they consider a bribe — cable and DTH operators have pointed out that carrying a channel involves expenses, some of which has to borne by the channel owner.
Carriage fee was also the only way in which new channels could ensure their presence on large networks, which otherwise saw no reason to carry unknown channels without a customer base.
As a result, carriage fee comprises as much as 70% of the running expenses of certain channels.
To ensure that carriage fee does not stifle growth among channels, TRAI has removed the element of secrecy and discretion from the payment.
From now on, all channels will have to pay the same amount as carriage fee, and the amount shall be declared in a publicly available document. Each cable and DTH operator is free to decide its carriage fee, but must apply it to all the channels uniformly.
The other big change is designed to prevent the frequent fights between channel owners and cable networks. Channel owners have been told to supply channels to all operators who wish to transmit it.
Conversely, all cable operators much provide space for all the channels from all companies — unless they can prove that less than 5% of their subscribers are subscribing to the channel.
The excerpts of the TRAI new regulations are as follows:
Every multi system operator shall publish in its Reference Interconnect Offer the carriage fee for carrying a channel of a broadcaster for which no request has been made bythe multi system operator.
Provided that the carriage fee shall be uniform for all the broadcasters and the same shall not be revised upwards for a minimum period of two years from the date of publication in the Reference Interconnect Offer.
A multi system operator, who seeks signals of a particular TV channel from a broadcaster, shall not demand carriage fee for carrying that channel on its distribution platform.
A multi system(cable) operator operating in the Municipal boundary of Greater Mumbai, National Capital Territory of Delhi, Kolkata Metropolitan area and Chennai Metropolitan area shall have a capacity to carry a minimum of two hundred channels as on the 30th June, 2012 and such capacity shall be enhanced to a minimum of 500 channels by 1st January, 2013:
Provided further that all multi system operators operating in the area referred to in the first proviso and having subscriber base of less than twenty five thousand shall have the capacity to carry a minimum of 500 channels by the 1st April, 2013.
BROADCASTERS MUST PROVIDE CHANNELS WITHOUT CONDITIONS:
No broadcaster of TV channels shall engage in any practice or activity or enter into any understanding or arrangement, including exclusive contract with any multi system operator for distribution of its channel which may prevent any other multi system operator from obtaining such TV channels for distribution.
Every broadcaster shall provide signals of its TV channels on non-discriminatory basis to every multi system operator having the prescribed channel capacity making request for the same within sixty days from the date of receipt of the request.
If a broadcaster before providing signals to a multi system operator insist for placement of its channel in a particular slot as a pre-condition for providing signals, such precondition shall amount to imposition of unreasonable terms.
NETWORKS MUST CARRY CHANNELS WITHOUT CONDITIONS:
No multi system operator shall enter into any understanding or arrangement with any broadcaster that may prevent any other broadcaster from obtaining access to the cable network of such multi system operator.
Every multi system operator shall, within sixty days of receipt of request from the broadcaster or its authorised agent or intermediary, provide on non-discriminatory basis, access to its network or convey the reasons for rejection of request if the access is denied to such broadcaster.
It shall not be mandatory for a multi system operator to carry the channel of a broadcaster if the channel is not in regional language of the region in which the multi system operator is operating or in Hindi or in English language OR if the broadcaster is not willing to pay the uniform carriage fee published by the multi system operator in its Reference Interconnect Offer.
It shall not be mandatory for the multi system operator to carry a channel for a period of next one year from the date of discontinuation of the channel, if the subscription for that particular channel, in the last preceding six months is less than or equal to five per cent of the subscriber base of that multi system operator taken as an average of subscriber base of the preceding six months.