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Broadcasters want tariff to be left to market forces

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MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) latest tariff order that will come into effect from 1 January 2015 has already got a few stakeholders’ views on it. To be called the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and cable) services (seventh) (non-addressable systems) Tariff Order, 2014 (draft), it will be applicable to broadcasting and cable services provided to cable subscribers throughout India through non addressable systems.

Tariff

The main point that the stakeholders who have given their comments agree on is not having any regulation on wholesale tariff and there should be complete forbearance from the Authority. “The presence of a  plethora  of players in the market  clearly  indicates  that there exists enough competition  in  the  market  and  no  monopolistic  practices  or  unfair  trade practices can be practiced in such a scenario,” is the view of agent The One Alliance (A MSM and Discovery JV, which has now parted ways).

NDTV and Star India also have similar views on tariff. “Given TRAI’s own finding that TV channels fulfill only ‘esteem needs’ of consumers and are as such non-essential, there is all the more no reason whatsoever for regulating channel prices,” is Star’s opinion. The same is shared by The One Alliance.

If in case TRAI decides that complete forbearance cannot be allowed, then Star India says that it can consider regulating prices at retail level only. The One Alliance on the other hand feels that TRAI needs to keep its nose out of even retail tariff since it will affect the consumer and the entire distribution chain. “The MSOs under the guise of regulated retail pricing would either further renegotiate with the broadcasters or fill their bandwidth with lesser priced channels,” it says.

According to The One Alliance, in case the TRAI feels that it should control wholesale rate then only it has to consider inflation rate while if it leaves to market forces, it won’t have to do the same.

The agent also feels that pricing on the basis of genre is illogical since the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) recognises only two categories: News and Current Affairs and Non News and Current Affairs while TRAI seeks to differentiate the non-news category into many genres. “Movie channels like Max and Star Gold also show live sports which is another genre with a different price cap,” it states.

On the issue of HD and 3D channels, The One Alliance feels that since these are niche channels and require high technology, it should not be subjected to any tariff restrictions whereas Star India feels that they should be kept out since they anyway cannot be transmitted in an analogue regime.

While TRAI says that broadcasters must give all channels in bouquets as well as a-la-carte, Star India says that there shouldn’t be any mandate that channels have to compulsorily be given on a-la-carte. At the same time, the obligation that old bouquets must be offered as per 2007, needs to go away specially after the coming into force of the deaggregation paper.

Carriage

Carriage fee is the biggest burden on broadcasters which everyone has askedthe regulator to include in its order. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and Times Television Network have just asked for carriage fees to be included as a crucial element.

The One Alliance on the other hand states that the authority has ‘blatantly ignored’ the issue of carriage fee even after its own view in a 21 July 2010 report which states, “The Authority is of the view that all carriage and placement fee transactions should be a part of inter connection agreements between the broadcasters and MSO/LCOs in the case of pay channels, or separately formalised as carriage and placement fee agreements in the case of FTA channels, and these should be filed with the TRAI. Such filings of carriage and placement fees will enable the authority to monitor carriage and placement fee transactions regularly and regulate the same through interventions where considered necessary.”

NDTV says that if there is a price control on how much broadcasters can charge MSOs for content, MSOs should also be told how much they can charge broadcasters for carriage and placement. “The charges paid by MCCS have increased by 300 per cent over the years. It is estimated that the carriage and placement fee paid by broadcasters is between Rs 1200 crore to Rs 1500 crore,” reads NDTV’s reply.

Declaration and reporting

The fact that MSOs and LCOs have not been asked to provide any reporting requirement is a question raised by them. Broadcasters urge TRAI to ensure that MSOs and LCOs do not under-declare their subscribers.

“We strongly believe and submit that the inter-connect regulations must allow for Broadcasters to conduct surprise audits and surveys with their respective technical teams to prevent under-reporting of subscriber base,” states The One Alliance.

Star India opines that strict financial disincentives should be prescribed for illegal transmission, area transgression, under declaration, piracy or any other illegality or non compliance. “Operators who have been found to be violating rules should not be given the protection of the Must Provide or regulated Tariffs.”

Both The One Alliance and Star India feel that details on advertising need not be declared as they don’t have any relation to tariff or other issues.

While TRAI says that a new channel launch needs 30 day prior intimation, The One Alliance feels that a seven day notice is sufficient.

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