At a time when the cricket telecast rights issue is driving broadcasters to court, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has issued recommendations which leave no room for content ‘exclusivity’.
In its recommendations for broadcasting and cable services, the regulator has said that every broadcaster must provide signals of its channels on a non-discriminatory basis to all DTH and cable operators.
Trai has also given a choice of three models for implementing conditional access system (CAS) without stating which one is desirable. On foreign direct investment, Trai has favoured a consistent policy across cable and DTH. The government will take note of the Trai recommendations before a final decision is taken.
According to the non-discriminatory clause, no exclusive contracts will be permitted between broadcasters and distributors of TV channels. The recommendations clarify that the clause will not apply for those distributors which have defaulted on payment.
On whether broadcasters would have to share their exclusive content such as cricket rights, mostly acquired at steep price, with a rival DTH platform, Trai chairman Pradip Baijal said: “Yes. A viewer must get to watch everything. He can’t have multiple dishes...” Trai has also suggested that ‘must-provide’ conditions must be added in the licence of DTH operators, including the existing one.
Currently, Subhash Chandra-promoted ASC Enterprises is the only DTH licensee in the country. Tata-Star combine’s Space TV application has been pending in the information and broadcasting ministry for over six months now.
It was indicated by government sources that Trai recommendation on ‘must-provide’ provision may hasten things for Tata-Star DTH project.
So far, Star and Sony have been denying content to ASC Enterprises’ DTH platform—Dish TV.
When asked for comments on the must-provide clause, a Star spokesperson told FE: “We will comply with government regulations, though such a norm does not exist anywhere else in the world.” He added: “We understand that this clause is meant to help develop the market and hope that the objectives are fulfilled.”
Reacting to the Trai proposals, particularly those relating to mandatory sharing of channels, media lawyer Tamali Sengupta said: “Broadcasters may turn very cautious because of this.” Internationally, such norms are rare, she argued.
According to Siticable CEO Jawahar Goel, Trai has done a good job in the given circumstances. However, he said CAS recommendations were ambiguous. On must-provide clause, Mr Goel said: “It was much needed.”
In CAS, Trai has suggested three models. The first one is where government mandates CAS, so that one can access pay channels only through set-top boxes. That is the system, which was introduced last year but could not take off. The second model relates to CAS through a system called Trap. Although this works out cheap, even Trai is not in its favour because of the old technology involved. The third model is about accessing only new pay channels through set-top boxes. Government officials appear to be tilted towards the third model, which they are referring to as “a bit of CAS”.
Interestingly, Trai has said that advertisements should not be regulated in pay and free to air channels at this point of time. It reasons that maximum revenues are coming from ads, and not subscription. However, the Cable Act could be modified so that government is able to regulate ads.