Trai caps a la carte channel price at 35% of non-Cas

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has capped the a la carte pricing of channels for addressable systems at 35 per cent the cost in non-Cas areas, a step that will bring down the content cost for DTH, digital cable and IPTV operators.

The earlier rate for DTH operators was fixed at 50 per cent of pricing in non-Cas areas.

In its new tariff order today, applicable to all broadcasting and cable services provided to subscribers through addressable systems, Trai said that every broadcaster shall offer all its pay channels on a la carte basis to distributors of TV channels, and specify the a la carte rate for each pay channel.
The broadcast sector regulator said that the charges payable by a cable operator to a multi system operator (MSO) or to a HITS (Headend-In-The-Sky) service provider, as the case may be, shall be as determined by mutual agreement.

Trai said that every service provider providing broadcasting services or cable services to its subscribers using an addressable system shall, from the date of coming into force of the order, offer all pay channels offered by it to its subscribers on a la carte basis and shall specify the maximum retail price for each pay channel.

However, to provide some relief to the operators, the order has fixed Rs 150 as the minimum monthly subscription for any number of channels. The channels of Doordarshan should be a compulsory part of each bouquet, it said.   
DTH players, who might be unable to offer all pay channels to subscribers on a la carte basis due to any technical reason, will have to do so by 1 January 2011.

To protect the subscribers, Trai has also said that no service provider, who provides broadcasting services or cable services using an addressable system, can increase the charges for a subscription package for a minimum period of six months from the date of enrolment of the subscriber. However, it does not prevent any service provider from reducing the price of the subscription package within the period of six months.

Trai refrained from fixing the retail tariff for the pay channels. It said that as the market forces are operating effectively, the authority is of the view that there is no need for regulatory intervention in the matter of retail tariff fixation at present.

Also, the broadcaster will have to specify a minimum subscription period not exceeding three months for a subscriber.

Trai also said that every broadcaster shall report to the authority, the a la carte rates for its pay channels fixed by it. They will have to publish such rates on their web site. Any changes will have to be reported 30 days prior to the change.

Also, any broadcaster of a free to air channel intending to convert the channel into a pay channel or vice-versa will have to inform Trai, give public notice about the intended conversion and run a scroll at periodic intervals on the channel proposed to be converted.

Every broadcaster will have to publish full details about the channels provided by it, the nature of each channel, i.e., whether it is a free to air or pay channel, the a la carte rate of each pay channel and the bouquet rates for bouquets of channels, if any, for distribution through addressable platforms - at least once in three months, in at least two national newspapers.

Multi-system operators (MSOs) are still trying to figure out what they have to gain from the new tariff order. Though they have to pay 35 per cent wherever they introduce addressable systems, the technicality of it is under question in non-Cas areas.

Broadcasters feel the sector regulator has been unfair to them as they have to price their channels at a maximum that is 35 per cent of their non-Cas rates.

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