IndusInd Media moves Tdsat against Trai’s tariff order

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: With barely a month remaining for the first phase of digitisation in the four metros, a big multi-system operator (MSO) has surprised everybody. Hinduja-controlled IndusInd Media and Communications Ltd (IMCL) has moved the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (Tdsat) challenging Trai’s tariff order for digital addressable systems.

IMCL, the the media subsidiary company of Hinduja Ventures Ltd, has approached the sector tribunal with mainly three complaints. The MSO’s first grudge is that the tariff order does not have a common rate for content from broadcasters, leaving space for negotiations that will weigh against smaller cable networks. By keeping the rate open with a ceiling at 42 per cent of analogue cable, it will also favour vertical media companies that have a presence in both distribution and content.

The implication on this is that pure play cable companies and small-sized networks will have a higher price to pay for the content from broadcasters compared to MSOs who have a wider reach and are aligned with broadcasters.

The second grouse is that the provision of a la carte channels to consumers in Basic Service Tier (BST) is operationally cumbersome and can be a logistic nightmare.

The third contention is that creating a 500-channel capacity is not required across India. What we make out from this is that Chennai, for instance, would not need 500 channels as there is no appetite for Hindi content.

The matter was listed before the Tdsat on 11 June. Senior advocate S Ganesh appeared and stated that the government is considering extension of the deadline for digitisation. He requested for a hearing on 25 June. After some deliberation, the Tdsat agreed to list the matter on the same day (25 June).

Incidentally, the deadline for the first phase of digitisation in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai is 30 June.

In a separate but related development, United Cable Operator’s Welfare Association, New Delhi, has moved Tdsat seeking better revenue share from the MSOs and an extension in date for digitisation. Trai has fixed revenue share of 45 per cent for free-to-air channels (FTA) and 35 per cent in case of pay channels. The Tdsat has also kept 25 June as the date for hearing.

Meanwhile, the Bombay High Court will hear on 15 June and the Delhi High Court on 20 June petitions by independent operators and local cable operators challenging the sunset dates set by the Government for switching off analogue cable in the metros.

The Information and Broadcasting minister Ambika Soni will meet the stakeholders to consider all points of view before any final decision and this would be conveyed to them after the Task Force meeting on 15 June.

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