Cable TV

TRAI steps in after 24% homes lose complete access to all pay channels

TRAI has allowed consumers to pick new channels till 31 March

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Tuesday extended the deadline for consumers to select television channels under its new tariff regime till 31 March  The subscribers that don’t opt for new channels would be moved to ‘Best Fit Plans’, which would be developed as per usage pattern, language and channel popularity, the sector regulator said in its statement.

The regulator said the decision had been taken to protect the interests of consumers. TRAI stated that some subscribers are facing difficulties in selecting the channels/ bouquet of their choice. In some cases, LCOs have not been able to reach out to the subscriber to create awareness among them and collect the options, it noted.

Right through the last couple of months, the regulator had time and again directed broadcasters and DPOs to ensure a seamless transition with no blackouts of TV screens.
Despite the best efforts of all stakeholders, switch offs were reported across several cities of the country during the transition, a situation RS Sharma and team wanted to avoid.
Therefore the TRAI’s latest move aimed at a consumer-friendly migration seems to be a positive one if ground-level implementation data is looked into.

According to numbers provided by Chrome DM, 24 per cent households had lost complete access to all pay channels in 10.9 million cable and satellite homes in 366 urban cities (340 Chrome DM reported channels).

As per Chrome DM week 6 data, 76 per cent of households in these cities felt no impact of the new norms, as they continued to have access to 300 odd channels as per their old packs. 13 per cent of households among rest 185.1 million cable and satellite homes across the country have exercised their right in some form to pick new packs.

Bhima Riddhi Digital Service promoter Nagesh Chhabria said his team had to convert consumers from pay channel base to FTA base in some areas. Chhabria said the Belgaum-based operator had initially handed ten days to its subscribers to select new channels or packages. However, those that did not exercise their choice were converted to the FTA base. However, he added that consumers were informed prior to the switch off. Overall 30-35 per cent of his company’s consumer base has been converted to FTA.

Maharashtra Cable Operators Foundation (MCOF) member Asif Sayed said the switch-off phenomenon was being witnessed in parts of Mumbai as well. According to him, all the MSOs other than Den Networks “have forcefully converted the pay packages into FTA”.

Sayed went on to add that some consumers, despite having packages with six months validity, have been moved to the FTA base.

“Any form of TV buying on the back of the existing ratings’ sampling does not hold, as the 196 million C&S homes in India will choose different channel packages – running into thousands of combinations. There are multiple combos being rolled out by the broadcasters, DPOs and variants of the same - earlier were an average of 5 packages earlier, which has moved to over 5000 combinations post the NTO implementation,” Chrome DM founder Pankaj Krishna highlighted.

Chrome DM week 5 data revealed that a staggering 90 per cent of consumers were aware of the change in tariff through the TV ads of broadcaster, and not through their cable service providers.

The data also showed that 70 per cent of people who have been contacted were yet to take decisions on which package or channels to subscribe to. Out of the balance 30 per cent in the regional markets, the inclination of choice is more towards regional packages and channels.

According to Chhabria it is premature to talk about the package uptake. He pointed out that broadcasters are marketing national bouquets a lot more than regional one. The veteran executive feels that regional channels are being promoted by DPOs.

According to Chrome DM, a major chunk of the off take of packages will be taken over by the distributor-defined packages, while broadcaster defined-packages will always remain a second choice. Chhabria seconded that theory, adding that around 60 per cent of consumers are picking bouquets designed by DPOs only. Sayed, from his on-ground experience, claimed that only DPO suggested packages are working. He also added that MSOs are taking a lot of time to activate pay channels on a-la-carte basis.

According to several industry watchers spoke to, major MSOs including Arasu Cable, Den Networks, GTPL Hathway, Hathway Cable and Datacom among others had switched off pay channels in various parts of the country. Multiple cities in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh reported a complete pay channel bouquet switch off, expect channels from IndiaCast and Sony. A small section of DPOs had also switched off all pay channels, barring some regional packages. Sayed added that the chaotic situation is increasing the churn rate of the cable business, thereby helping DTH operators.

As per TRAI, there are close to 100 million cable service TV homes and 67 million DTH TV homes in the country. The regulator believes that approximately 65 per cent of the subscribers of the cable services and 35 per cent subscribers of the DTH services have already exercised the options.

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