Tata Sky, Airtel Digital could benefit from new TRAI rules on channel packs

Dish TV supports the highest number of packs so far

The curious case of the missing Star India channel packs on DTH platforms like D2h and Sun Direct has pointed to the position of relative strength enjoyed by platforms like Tata Sky and Airtel Digital in the new TRAI regime.

Under the new rules, distribution platforms like Tata Sky, Dish TV and Sun Direct are not obligated to carry broadcaster’s plans.

This means that even if a broadcaster — like Star India, Sony or Zee — tries to force users to subscribe to most of their channels using packs and bundling, the cable or DTH operator can still throw a spanner in the works by refusing to support such a strategy.

They can do this by simply not providing the packs on their platforms.

In case of D2h and Sun Direct, for example, none of Star India’s packs are supported.

Similarly, the two DTH players carry only 4 out of the nearly 30 or so packs that Sony has.

Such a policy of not supporting all or most of a broadcaster’s packs creates massive problems for the channel companies as it affects their reach and advertising revenue.

NEGOTIATIONS AGAIN?

The situation can end in one of two ways, one of which can benefit the consumer, while the other won’t.

The first possible resolution is that the broadcaster, like Star or Sony, pays money to the DTH or cable operator in the form of a “marketing fee” to ensure that their packs are supported.

This would benefit the DTH or cable operator, but not necessarily the consumer.

The second possible result is that such a blocking of packs by the DTH or cable operator could force broadcasters to ‘unbundle’ or ‘unpack’ their channels.

In other words, instead of paying money to the DTH or cable operator, the broadcaster may simply decide that it is better to cut the prices of their individual channels to overcome the ‘pack block’.

If the broadcaster is willing to cut the prices of the individual channels, then he or she does not have to depend on the packs at all to sell his channels.

This is also a more long-term solution compared to the ‘payment option’ as there won’t be payment related disputes in the future. Moreover, broadcasters and distribution providers share a difficult history of negotiations.

The second option of unbundling of channels could also benefit the end consumer as well, as it would enhance consumer choice and enable him or her to subscribe to only those channels that he or she watches.

Which of the two strategies broadcasters adopt depends on exactly how much money they will have to spend in terms of marketing fees etc to get their packs on DTH platforms.

If it’s a comparatively smaller amount, then they are likely to adopt that route instead of cutting the prices of individual channels.

There is also a third option involving knocking on the court’s doors.

Channel owners could challenge the action of the DTH and cable operators to block their packs, arguing that it restricts “consumer choice”.

However, cable and DTH companies too could use the exact argument by pointing out that the practice of forcing consumers to buy packs instead of individual channels amounts to forcing unwanted channels on consumers.

As such, the quickest and most likely resolution for the current impasse would be for the channel owners to pay marketing fees to DTH and cable providers in return for the latter carrying their packs.

TATA SKY, AIRTEL BEST PLACED

In this fight, the strongest cards are held by independent cable and DTH companies who are not part of larger media houses.

On the other extreme, the weakest bargaining position is that of a broadcaster that does not have a cable or DTH platform, like Sony and Times.

Entities that are both broadcasters as well as platforms — like Zee and Sun TV — are intermediate in their bargaining strength.

These diversified groups do not enjoy any particular position of strength in negotiating with independent platforms like Tata Sky and Airtel, but do enjoy a strong position when negotiating with another diversified group. Hence, all of Sun TV’s packs are supported by Zee Group’s platforms like D2h and Dish TV, while all of Zee Group’s packages are carried by Sun TV’s distribution platforms like Sun Direct.

New Pack Info?Network Charge
Tata SkyNo
Airtel DigitalA-LA PACKS130/20.34
Dish TVA-LA, PACK & FTA
AsianetA-LA & PACKS
D2hFTA PACKS
Sun DirectA-LA & PACKS130/25
Den Networks A-LA & PACKS
Siti CableFTA1 FTA2 A-LA PAY

130/25
HathwayPACKS130/25
GTPL HathwayA-LA
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