TRAI ends aggregation of content from different broadcaster groups

Updated - 08:05pm

MUMBAI:  Aggregation of television content from various broadcasters will soon be history and content aggregators will be able to act only as agents of broadcasters.

These are the provisions in the amended regulations notified by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) today.

The TRAI has barred content aggregators from signing Reference Interconnect Offers (RIOs) with Distribution Platform Operators and said broadcasters themselves will now need to publish the Reference Interconnect Offers (RIOs) and also enter into interconnection agreements with Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs).

TRAI has now clearly defined the roles of the broadcaster, the channel aggregator and the DPOs which include the multi-system operators.

Broadcasters have six months to sign RIOs with DPOs themselves and current content aggregators like Media Pro, IndiaCast UTV Media Distribution and One Alliance will only be able to function as agents of broadcasters.

TRAI has allowed a broadcaster to appoint an agent for signing the RIOs, but clearly stating that the agent can only act in the name of and on behalf of the broadcaster.

The regulator in the notification clearly mentions that the appointed agent cannot alter the bouquets as offered in the RIO of the broadcaster and if one agent acts as an authorised agent of multiple broadcasters, individual broadcasters need to ensure that such agents do not bundle channels or bouquets with other broadcasters, TRAI said.

TRAI has, however, provided relief to broadcaster groups by allowing more than one company belonging to the same group to bundle their channels into packages.

Broadcasters will have to file amended RIOs and interconnection agreements with the regulator.

According to TRAI, currently around 239 pay channels (including HD and advertisement-free channels) are offered by 55 pay broadcasters. These channels are distributed by 30 broadcasters/aggregators/ agents of broadcasters.

“The distribution business of 58.6 per cent of the total pay TV market available today is controlled by the top three aggregators,” the TRAI said, referring to Media Pro, IndiaCast and One Alliance.

TRAI feels that the bouquets offered by aggregators comprise popular channels of multiple broadcasters they represent. Thus, leaving DPOs with no option, but to subscribe to these bouquets and then push these channels to the consumers to recover costs.

Analysis of bouquets offered by Aggregators

“This shows that aggregators are offering bouquets comprising as many as 20 channels of six broadcasters. Another bouquet, comprising 13 channels, has channels drawn from 9 broadcasters,” says TRAI through its published report.

Explaining further the TRAI paper says, “Media Pro has mostly entered into agreements with MSOs for around 65 channels out of the 76 pay channels it distributes. These MSOs include both smaller independent MSOs as well as MSOs operating at national level. Similarly, IndiaCast and MSM Discovery have mostly entered into agreements for around 30 (out of 36 channels being distributed by it) and 20 channels (out of 28 channels being distributed by it) respectively. This substantiates the allegation of the DPOs that the large aggregators are virtually compelling them to enter into agreements to subscribe to almost all of their channels.”  

The regulator has also found that majority of the channels distributed by the aggregators belong to broadcaster groups who own or control the aggregator. “90.7 per cent- Media Pro, 58 per cent IndiaCast and 57 per cent- MSMD.” 

According to the regulator, the rates being charged from non-vertically integrated DPOs are, in some cases, higher by 62 per cent as compared to the vertically integrated DPOs.

“The situation becomes even worse in the case of relatively smaller non- vertically integrated DPOs in which case the rates charged are higher by about 85 per cent as compared to the vertically integrated DPOs.”

TRAI feels that the amendment will not only ensure a better spread of popular channels in different bouquets available to the DPOs but would also reduce the number of less popular channels pushed on to such bouquets.

“Even in case a DPO fails to arrive at an agreement with a particular broadcaster the opportunity of finalising agreements with other popular broadcasters is not lost. Thus, DPOs would be placed in a much better position to carry out their businesses,” TRAI said.

“The interconnect regulations aim at making available the content to DPOs in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner. For this, it is important that the offerings of the broadcasters are available in the public domain. This is why broadcasters have been mandated to publish an RIO prescribing the technical and commercial terms for making available their TV channels to the DPOs,” it says.

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