A new era in the broadcasting and cable industry is expected from March 2005 once the interconnect order of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is implemented. According to the order, which was issued on Friday, “every broadcaster shall provide on request signals of its TV channels on non-discriminatory terms to all distributors of TV channels, which may include, but may not be limited to a cable operator, direct-to-home (DTH) operator, multi-system operator (MSO), head-ends in the sky (HITS) operator”.
The order leaves no room for exclusivity of any distribution platform, including DTH, citing consumer convenience.
The provisions of the order would apply to the existing contracts within 90 days, that is March 10. Also, any aggrieved party can report to the broadcaster or the MSO if it is discriminated against. If there’s no redressal within 30 days, the party can approach an appropriate forum.
The draft recommendations were issued in October, after which industry players had submitted their response. Many broadcasters, including Star, had opposed the idea of such an order. However, Trai has stuck to its original stand of ‘must-provide for all’.
The issue assumes significance as pay channel broadcasters such as Star and Sony have so far refused to join the DTH platform of Subhash Chandra-promoted ASC Enterprises. This order may change things. In fact, Star-Tata’s DTH venture, Space TV, which is awaiting government clearance, would have to face a new regime too, going by the Trai order.
Reacting to the order, Star spokesperson told FE: “Our view on this issue is well-known. We have opposed the must-provide provision, as envisaged in this Trai order, since such a clause is practically non-existent anywhere in the world.” He added, “It’s likely to hurt the creativity and content because there will be no premium on exclusivity. It remains to be seen whether must-provide will help promote competition as argued by Trai.”
Besides, 90 days are inadequate for making a transition to the new regime, the Star official said. “We alone have over 6,000 contracts with cable operators. Other broadcasters would have a similar number of contracts. So, the regulator should have allowed a longer transition period.”
However, the rival camp, Zee/Siti/ASC (promoted by Zee chairman Subhash Chandra), welcomed the move. “The move is expected to bring some amount of transparency. It will also set a trend for growth of the industry,” a company spokesperson said. Echoing Trai’s views, he added, “If exclusivity is not in the interest of the consumers, it doesn’t hold much meaning”.
A tariff order, if necessary, may follow, it is believed. “It’s an evolving process,” as an expert said.
However, a source close to the development pointed out that “application of the Trai order is doubtful in the case of some players”. It would apply to only service providers or licensees, as defined in the Telegraph Act, and not to MSOs and foreign broadcasters, he argued.