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TDSAT 'reserves' order on landing-page case

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NEW DELHI: Telecoms and disputes tribunal TDSAT on Thursday reserved its order—the judge will pronounce the verdict later—on a case filed by a few multi-system operators (MSO) on sector regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) decision to ban the use of boot-up or landing page for anything else other than promotion of the distribution platform’s services.

TDSAT, after hearing all sides, including TRAI, will now give a direction later. The arguments, amongst other issues, revolved around the fact whether all laid down norms and procedures were followed by the regulator before passing an order on the landing page matter on 8 December 2017.

“In order to protect the interest of service providers and consumers, and orderly growth of the sector, [TRAI] directs all broadcasters and distributors of TV channels to restrain from placing any registered satellite TV channel, on the landing page LCN or landing channel or boot-up screen within 15 days from the date of issuance of this direction,” the regulator had stated in its order, asserting it was well within its right and powers to do so.

Soon after this directive was issued, a clutch of MSOs and TV channels, including Fastway (operating in Punjab and Haryana states), DEN Networks and the Times group, moved the TDSAT challenging the regulator’s diktat.

The landing or the boot-up page is what a viewer sees first when a TV set and the connected set-top box are switched on. This page on the screen remains for a certain period of time after which the EPG or the electronic programming guide of the distribution service provider comes up. The landing page, considered hot real estate, usually carries paid advertisements of a TV channel programme or messages (like audience-measurement data relating to a particular TV channel or even initial sampling of a new channel). The commercial use of the landing page results in sizeable revenue for distribution platforms.

Asked about the legality of the whole issue, lawyer Abhishek Malhotra, a partner in Bharucha & Partners, a law firm specialising in media sector-related cases, said, “The legal position on transparency required to be followed by TRAI under Section 11(4) of the Act is very clear and has been reiterated by the Supreme Court. It seems likely that non-observance by TRAI of this basic condition could result in the matter being remanded back before the merits of the matter are taken up.”

While passing the directive on use of the landing page, TRAI had said it had received a number of representations from stakeholders stating the practice of placing a registered TV channel—whose audience data was recently released—on the landing page had the potential to influence TV-audience measurements.

The genesis of this TRAI order is connected to the rousing debut of an English news channel last year, which got high viewership ratings from the audience-measurement agency and the data was questioned by a section of the competition on the grounds that some unethical practices were followed. It had then resulted in a public spat.

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