Trai sticks with content to all stance

NEW DELHI: The cable and broadcast regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, today reiterated an earlier stand that content should not be denied to any platform or delivery mechanism citing exclusivity as it could lead to anti-competition practices. Extending that line of reasoning, Trai has also struck down exclusive deals taking place amongst stakeholders.

In a draft of the inter-connect regulations issued today, Trai said competition in India for delivery of TV channels is not only to be promoted within the cable industry, but also from distributors of TV channels using other media like direct to home (DTH) and headend-in-the-sky.

It is important that all these distribution platforms are promoted so that they provide consumers with choice. It would be very important that at this stage, vertical integration does not impede competition. 

Vertically integrated broadcaster and distribution network operators would, in the absence of strong regulation, have the tendency to deny popular content to competing networks or to discriminate against them, the draft regulations stated, making it clear that the 'must-provide' clause is an important facet of this set of rules.

Exclusivity had not been a feature of Indias fragmented cable television market and the entry of newer technologies like DTH should not change this, Trai has in effect said, though this has been hotly contested by some broadcasters like Star, Sony and Discovery.

The regulator has given industry stakeholders till 5 November to offer feedback on the draft regulation.

However, a Trai official made it clear that the feedback should not harp on scrapping the 'must provide' (making available TV channels to all platforms on a non-discriminatory basis) clause. We are seeking feedback on the modalities of interconnect agreement and not why certain checks and balances have been put in place, the official explained.

Why issue a draft? According to Trai, subsequent to the release of their recommendations on 1 October, on various issues, suggestions have been made on the inter-connection regulation. Since regulation for non-discriminatory access of TV channels is a major step in the reforms of distribution of TV channels and this regulation will have far reaching and long term impact on the growth of the industry, it was decided that before finalising the regulation it would be appropriate that all stake holders were given an 

opportunity to comment on the draft regulation, Trai said.

Though the regulator has made some significant changes in the draft regulation (like distinguishing between agent or intermediary and distributors of TV channels), industry people said some other important issues could have been better clarified and explained.

For example, what happens to the various minimum guarantee deals that broadcasters had struck with MSOs and cable operators to beat the continuing price freeze on subscription rates?

Though the draft inter-connect regulation admits volume discounts can be given, it fails to clarify who is to define related factors like technology of the distribution of TV channels and geographical proximity.

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