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'Must provide' ruling expected in a few days

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NEW DELHI: The Indian government expects that the broadcast and cable regulator would submit a favourable recommendation within "a few days" on making available TV channels by content providers to all platforms on a non-discriminatory basis.



Pointing out that this particular issue of `must provide' was specifically referred to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) by information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy recently, a senior ministry official said, "The government is also likely to accept Trai's recommendations."



What is interesting to see is that the government stand on the must-provide clause is gaining stridency as the launch of Indian pubcaster Doordarshan's KU-band DTH television service draws nearer.



As of today, only 16 private sector channels have agreed to join the DD platform with most mass-based Hindi entertainment channels keeping off.



The official's statement also gains importance in the light of the fact that the government expects Trai to recommend that all TV channels must be made available to all platforms, including DTH, on a non-discriminatory basis.



This issue had been hanging fire with the industry vertically split on the matter. A pay broadcaster would not like to make available all its channels to a rival's platform, while most broadcasters would also not like to be on a DTH platform that is free like DD's --- something that would cost a subscriber nothing to access.



When asked whether the government would wait till this must-provide clause is sorted out before handing out more licences for DTH services in the country, the ministry official said, "Not necessarily. But all DTH service providers in the country would have to abide by it."



Tata-Star's application for a DTH licence is still pending with the I&B ministry. The venture is estimated to be worth Rs 1.6 billion.



Queried further whether the must-provide clause could lead to loss of exclusivity for a DTH platform, the official said, "In the name of exclusivity, lack of competition cannot be allowed."



However, global trends show that in the case of DTH, unlike cable or any other platform, monopoly or duopoly works best. Even in developed markets like the US and the UK, DTH services sell on the basis of providing exclusive and premium fare to subscribers.



Meanwhile, Doordarshan today said that it has increased its target of providing free DTH kits from 10,000 to 15,000. These would be distributed primarily in eight states, including some in the north-eastern regions, which are below the national average in terms of coverage by the national broadcaster.



Speaking to journalists, Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma said that the private channels that have agreed to come on to DD's 40-channel DTH platform include BBC World, Zee News, Alpha Bangla, ETC Punjabi, Star Utsav, MH1, Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, apart from some South Indian channels.

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