India’s major cable and DTH companies, such as Tata Sky, Airtel Digital, Dish TV, Hathway and GTPL, are likely to unveil new plans and TV channel packs today under TRAI’s amended tariff order.
According to the amended tariff order — which has not been stayed by any court so far — all distribution platforms (cable and DTH operators) have to publish any changes to their packages and plans at least 30 days before it comes into effect (March 1).
Most of the existing plans and packages offered by cable and DTH operators at present will become obsolete and dysfunctional on March 1 because of new pricing norms that come into effect on that day.
With the aim of reducing monthly bills, TRAI has directed that no cable, DTH or channel company can include any channel priced above Rs 12 in any of their packs from March 1.
The move is meant to ‘persuade’ major broadcasters such as Star India, Zee Entertainment, Sony Networks, TV18 and Sun TV to bring down the prices of their popular channels from the current Rs 19 to Rs 12.
If channel prices are not brought down, TRAI said, it will not allow these channels to be included in any channel packs or plans.
However, broadcasters have refused to bring down their prices.
This means that even cable and DTH operators will have to remove expensive channels — such as Star TV, Zee TV, SET, Colors and Sun TV — from all their base packs and republish their pack details today.
These new packs — which will be published today — can contain only channels that are priced at Rs 12 or below.
In case any cable or DTH operator fails to publish updated plans today, the subscribers who are currently on such packs will be forcibly moved to FTA or free-channel packs.
Such subscribers will have to activate the pay channels that they want to watch on an individual basis, or by using any add-on packs that may be available.
Some add-on packs are sure to be available. For example, all the packs from Times Network will be continue to be available for activation on all cable and DTH networks from March 1. This is because these packs contain only channels priced at or below Rs 12.
Similar is the case for Discovery Communications and several other broadcasters like NDTV and Jaya TV. Some of the packs offered by TV18 will also be available after March 1.
However, most of the existing packs from Star, Zee, Tata Sky, Dish TV, Hathway and Sun Direct will not be available.
For example, Sun Direct offers a base plan called DPO Pack 1, which contains channels such as Sun TV and KTV. However, the prices of these channels have not been reduced to Rs 12. Hence, these channels cannot be put inside any pack, and any pack that contains these channels becomes null and void from March 1.
If Sun Direct does not publish updated details of DPO Pack 1 today, then the pack will vanish on March 1.
Anyone who is on DPO Pack 1 at present is then likely to be put on Sun Direct’s FTA pack. If that subscriber then wants to watch pay channels, he or she will have to buy these channels at their full MRP.
Similarly, any Tata Sky user who is currently subscribed to a base pack like ‘Hindi Basic’ is also likely be put on an FTA pack that contains only free-to-air channels.
The Hindi Basic pack – priced at Rs 191 — currently contains channels such as SET, Star Plus, Zee TV and Colors. However, none of these channels have cut their prices, and therefore any pack that contains these channels becomes null and void on March 1. Thus, the Hindi Basic pack of Tata Sky too is at the risk of vanishing.
TRAI Secretary SK Gupta has reiterated that cable and DTH operators must update their packs in time if they want to continue to offer their packs from March 1.
“Anything that is not in compliance with the regulatory framework [from March 1] will definitely not happen,” he insisted.
Almost all the base packs currently offered by cable and DTH players contain at least one 19-rupee channel.
Therefore all these packs will be unavailable from March 1, and anyone who is subscribed to them will automatically be put on an FTA-only base pack.
INCONVENIENCE FOR USERS
In case cable and DTH operators do not modify their existing base packs by removing 19-rupee channels by end of day today, their subscribers will face massive inconvenience on March 1, as they find themselves shifted to an FTA pack.
Anyone who is shifted to an FTA pack will stop getting pay channels, and has to activate these channels separately.
The industry already went through one round of pain in January last year when the new tariff order came into effect.
However, cable and DTH operators can avoid putting their subscribers through this inconvenience by removing all 19- and 17-rupee channels from their packs and publishing the new channel lists today.
For example, in case of Hindi Basic, Tata Sky can today publish a new ‘Hindi Basic’ pack without expensive channels. If it does so, customers who are currently on Hindi Basic plan will be smoothly rolled over to the new Hindi Basic plan on March 1.
If not, a repeat of last year’s confusion and problems are likely to occur again.