TRAI PLANS: Channel prices cut as negotiations drag on with DTH, cable cos

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Even as cable and DTH companies prepare to pull most of the expensive channels out of their base packs from December 29 over pricing issues, three broadcasters — Times Network, TV18 and Zee Entertainment — have reduced or rationalized their channel prices and packs.

While Times Network has cut the price of 10 out of its 12 channels, Zee Entertainment has slashed the prices of most of its low-cost channels to 10 paise per month.

Indiacast, which distributes popular TV18, Viacom and AETN channels such as Colors, History Channel, MTV, News18 and CNBC, also slashed the prices of 23 of its 55 channels (see list).

Indiacast also overhauled its channel pack structure, introducing a three-tier structure in place of the earlier two-tier structure.

ZEE PACKS AND PRICES

Zee too has also started offering more flexible options in its packages, including a dedicated pack comprising just its English language offerings.

Earlier, one had to subscribe to Zee’s mega packs, comprising mostly Indian language channels, even if one wanted to watch only English language offerings. The only other option was to pay high rates for buying the channels one-by-one.

Now, it has introduced an English version of the Zee Prime Pack that comprises its two movie channels — &Flix and &Prive, international news channel WION, English entertainment channel Zee Cafe and food channel Living Foodz.

The SD version of Zee’s prime pack for English is priced at Rs 25, excluding taxes and network charges, while the HD version is priced at Rs 35 per month.

TIMES NETWORK

Times Network, which runs Times Now, too has slashed its channel prices.

Ten out of the group’s 12 channels have seen price cuts within days of the company announcing its original tariff card.

Most of the Times Group channels — such as Times Now, Movies Now, Mirror Now and MNX — have seen price revisions in the rage of 15%-40%. The price of Times Now has been reduced by 40%.

The bigger drops have been seen in the pack prices.

While earlier, a pack of just the five HD channels of the group was priced at Rs 32.20, now subscribers can get all eight channels from the group, including five HD channels, at just Rs 20 per month. This amounts to a nearly 60% price reduction from the tariffs unveiled earlier, under which one would have had to shell out around Rs 49 per month to watch all the eight channels from the group.

TV18

Reliance Industries-controlled TV18 group, which has joint ventures with US-based Viacom, CNBC and AETN networks as well as its own news channels, slashed the prices of 23 of its 55 channels on Saturday.

The price reductions range from 10% for Colors Marathi HD to 88% for Nick Junior kids channel.

The biggest cuts in prices have come in the group’s news channels under the News18 brand. Prices of regional News18 channels have been cut by 50% to 25 paise per subscriber per month.

Prices of most of the HD channels have been maintained. History TV18 HD, was among the two exceptions; its price corrected to Rs 7 from Rs 9.

Indiacast also reorganized its channel packs, introducing a three-tier system comprising Family, Value and Budget offerings.

Like in case of Zee and Star, the most expensive packs are designed for an audience that is interested in both Indian and international channels, while the Budget offering is targeted at people who are interested only in channels in their local language.

The mid-tier, or Value pack offers local language channels as well as some of the group’s Hindi offerings, such as Colors and MTV.

The group’s Kids channels — Nick, Nick Jr and Sonic — are offered in all three packs in non-Hindi markets, but are not present in the Budget offering in Hindi markets.

Prices for the Hindi packs are cheaper than those of other languages like Kannada.

The premium, or Family, HD pack is priced at Rs 50 in Hindi and at Rs 60 in Kannada. The corresponding prices for the SD versions are Rs 35 and Rs 45.

Budget packs are priced at largely similar levels, at around Rs 32 for HD and Rs 25 for SD.

MORE PRICE CUTS COMING?

It is believed that more and more broadcasters will start cutting the prices or offering more flexible channel packs as it becomes clear that DTH & cable companies, as well as most consumers, are in no mood to pay Rs 600 per month to watch all the channels they are used to.

In such a situation, consumers are likely to ‘trade down’, by switching to cheaper channels like Star Bharat and Zee Anmol, which are priced at less than 10% of what premium channels like Star Plus and Zee TV are priced at.

Besides consumers, cable and DTH companies are also not happy with broadcasters’ decision to price their popular channels at high levels of Rs 19 each.

It is assumed that each family watches around 35 popular channels. At that price, the cost of 35 pay channels alone will come to around Rs 785 per month after tax.

Adding network charges of around Rs 150, the total monthly bill of a DTH or cable customer would be close to Rs 935 per month if all popular channels are priced at Rs 19.

As such, cable and DTH operators are hoping that more and more broadcasters will start cutting their channel prices, or rationalize their bouquets to offer more flexibility to the distributors and consumers in choosing the genre of channels they are interested in, while avoiding those they are not.

Meanwhile, any dip in the viewership of popular channels due to the high prices under the new TRAI rules will hit their advertising earnings. Advertising accounts for about 65% of the total revenue of broadcasting companies, while subscription accounts for only around 30%.

To avoid a hit on the advertising front, channels have asked BARC, the viewership measurement company, to stop giving out any information for some time till they figure out how the new tariff plans — which come into effect on Dec 29 — impact their channels’ viewership.

It remains to be seen if advertisers will continue to pay high ad rates when viewership information in unavailable.

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