Replies to Trai: Daggers drawn for broadcasters, cable ops

NEW DELHI: Evan as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) rides roughshod over the broadcast sector, the protagonists (read broadcasters vs the cable fraternity) are busy laying all the ills of the industry at the other's door.

The broadcasters have, in their reply to a consultation paper issued by the regulator, reiterated that pricing of channels, etc. should not be done, while the cable fraternity has harped on the lines that pay channels should be regulated and that there ought to be a 'must make available' clause for content for all modes of delivery.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), an apex body of broadcasters operating in India, has conveyed to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in a formal reply that television media provides unique programming and content essentially comprised of copyright-able material and other intellectual property and, thus, "fixing prices for copyright-able material would be tantamount to regulating prices of copyrights - in effect regulating creativity."

Pointing out that "cable television is not a utility and therefore commercial issues like rates, periodicity of revision of rates and other commercial matters should not be regulated," the IBF's reply, a copy of which is available with, puts the blame on the doorstep of the cable fraternity.

The IBF has pointed out, "Cable monopolies are the curse. In actuality, the industry will greatly benefit from increased transparency and thoughtful regulation of the most highly monopolistic segment of the industry: cable operator control of territory and households."

On conditional access system (CAS), IBF's stand is that STBs should be paid for by the cable operator (meaning boxes should be provided free to CAS consumers) because "it is ultimately the system's asset, which can be shifted from one subscriber household to another."

The broadcasters have also maintained that regulating advertising time on pay channels would be detrimental and that the broadcasters are aware that too much advertising would take away consumers and viewers from that particular channel. Bottomline: don't pass any order on that and let the market forces decide what should, and can be, done.

On the other hand, the cable fraternity has blamed the broadcasters for most of the ills afflicting the industry.

Zee Telefilms cable arm and the biggest multi-system operator, Siti Cable, has pointed out to TRAI, amongst other things, that the regulator must ensure that content is made available to all platforms or modes of delivery (like CAS-enabled regions, DTH and headend-in-the-sky) without any "discrimination."

This would mean that Siti Cable is attempting to draw TRAI's attention to the reluctance of major broadcasters like Star India and SET India to come aboard ASC Enterprise-Zee combine-promoted DTH platform.

National Cable & Telecom Association (NCTA), in its reply that would go today to TRAI, has said that the broadcasters 'sabotaged' implementation of CAS and that advertising on pay channels should be regulated.

"The CAS regime is threatening the pay TV broadcaster's advertising revenues in the short run, as it will expose the true extent of their viewership to the advertisers. It is also threatening the lucrative pay-TV subscriber revenues, which these broadcasters are virtually 'extorting' from the Cable service providers on most unreasonable terms. For example, channels have been 'bundled' into bouquets of channels and the Cable service providers and the consumers have to buy all or nothing," NCTA's president and Home Cable Network MD, Vikki Choudhry, has said in reply to the consultation paper issued by TRAI.

With the cable and broadcast industry dropping all semblance of any bonhomie, which had been tom-tommed some months back in the wake of CAS deliberations, TRAI has a big task on its hand: that is, first, bring the warring factions together before trying regulatory mechanism for the industry.

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