TRAI TARIFF CASE: Bombay HC gives no stay on Day 3

Some of the cheaper channels

The Bombay High Court has not granted any stay on TRAI’s modified tariff order for TV channels that is scheduled to come into effect from March 1.

Instead, the bench of Justices SC Dharmadhikari and RI Chagla posted the matter for February 12 and 13.

This is the third time that broadcasters have had to return disappointed from the court room in their quest for a stay on TRAI’s new tariff order modifications.

The court said that the Indian Broadcasting Foundation can continue to argue for interim stay when the case is again taken up on Feb 12.

Meanwhile, a petition listed before the Madras High Court by Sun Network challenging the new rules will come up for hearing early next week.

Hearing on the petition had been pushed back to next month after TRAI argued that the law in question has been challenged by Indian Broadcasting Foundation — which includes Sun Network — in the Bombay High Court.

Bombay High Court’s refusal to stay the TRAI tariff order means that cable and DTH companies will publish new TV channel and pack prices tomorrow.

Cable and DTH companies will have to exclude almost all the popular channels — such as Sun TV, Zee TV, Star Plus and Colors — from all their packs when they publish the new pack and channel details tomorrow.

This is because the owners of these channels have refused to bring down their prices from the current level of Rs 19 per month.

According to the rules announced on Jan 1, any channel priced above Rs 12 cannot be included in any pack — whether of the channel owners or of cable and DTH players.

The new rules also say that any broadcaster has to give an advance notice of 45 days before changing the price of a channel or pack.

Since none of the big broadcasters — including Zee Entertainment, Star India, Sony Pictures Networks and Viacom18 — have given advance notice of a price reduction so far, their channels cannot be included in any packs from March 1.

As a result, users will be forced to activate these channels on a one-by-one basis from March 1.

It is not clear if broadcasters plan to keep their channel prices at Rs 19 permanently, or whether they are waiting for the resolution of the case filed by Indian Broadcasting Foundation before reducing prices.

In the petition, IBF has challenged TRAI’s decision to exclude any channel priced above Rs 12 from channel packs. They have also challenged certain other rules, claiming that such changes will make it difficult for them to carry on their business.

Meanwhile, the new rules can prove to be a big boon to certain broadcasting groups — such as the Times Group, all of whose 13 channels are priced at Rs 12 or below.

Another major broadcaster that is likely to benefit big time from the new rules is Discovery Communications. Discovery too has priced all its channels at very low rates, enabling cable and DTH operators to include its channels in their packs.

This also means that when cable and DTH companies announce their packs tomorrow, they will be forced to remove the expensive channels of players like Zee, Sony, Star and Viacom18.

To fill the gaps left by these channels, the cable and DTH operators are likely to include the channels of groups like Times Network and Discovery Communications, boosting their reach.

However, these operators can continue to include the cheaper channels of Star, Zee, Viacom18 and Sony Pictures Networks. Such cheaper channels include Star Gold, Star Gold Select, Star Sports Select 2, Star Sports 2, Star World, & Picture, Zee Anmol, UTV HD and AXN HD.

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