The I&B Ministry has come out with strict norms for broadcasters in its notification to implement Conditional Access System (CAS) in the notified areas of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata by December 31, 2006.
Striking hard where it hurts most, the Ministry has put a ceiling on the maximum duration for which channels can carry advertisements. “No programme shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes per hour, which may include up to 10 minutes per hour of commercial advertisements and up to two minutes per hour of a channel’s self-promotional programmes.” In recent times, there have been several reports of television channels, especially news channels, carrying excessive advertisements.
But that’s just the beginning. Consenting to the demand by MSOs and cable operators that their broadcasters should declare individual pricing of each channel, the Ministry has ordered every broadcaster to declare the a la carte pricing within 15 days of the date of the notification. This is considered as a very consumer-friendly measure as till now broadcasters were declaring pricings only for MSOs and cable operators.
But that does not mean the broadcaster has been given the leeway to fix prices at will. TRAI has been given the authority to fix and declare MRPs of such pay channels or fix a general MRP, if the regulator feels that the price declared by the broadcaster is too high.
Every broadcaster now will enter into interconnection agreements with MSOs in the notified areas as per the standard interconnection agreement, or with any mutually agreed modifications on a non-discriminatory basis. But what could invite the broadcasters’ ire is the provision that if a broadcaster fails to declare the price of any of its pay channels within the prescribed time limit or refuses to enter into an interconnect agreement with an MSO, then the government has the authority to suspend uplinking or downlinking permission of the channel.
Obviously, MSOs are more than happy with the new provisions. “This is a revolutionary step taken by the I&B Ministry to facilitate the implimentation of CAS. We are very happy as all our demands during the discussions with the Ministry have been accepted suo motu as they were genuine demands,” said A Mohan, VP, SitiCable.
“The government has curbed the broadcasters and MSOs. It is a good step forward towards regulation,” observed Roop Sharma, President, Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI). Under the new provision, the MSOs now will have to get themselves registered with the government.
The Ministry has also asked the MSOs to conduct public awareness programmes to educate the consumers about CAS. “We are ready to do more than the government wants us to do to educate subscribers as it is in the interest of our industry,” Mohan said.
However, one provision that may create confusion is that government has reserved the power to postpone the implementation of CAS through TRAI recommendation, if the regulator feels that the MSOs are not fully prepared to roll out CAS.
“The government has kept an escape route here as it has always been pro-DTH and anti-CAS,” Sharma complained. However, Mohan disagreed. “This is a necessary step to ensure consumers do not suffer because of the negligence of some MSOs. Then the government has to derive an order from the High Court if it wants to postpone CAS implementation,” he said.