The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) on Thursday called on the I&B Ministry urging for a dramatic shift in its regulatory approach to the pay TV industry.
“The Indian authorities’ current positioning is holding back the industry and introducing significant new constraints of the kind that had slowed India’s economic development for decades,” said CASBAA CEO Simon Twiston Davies.
According to CASBAA, recent initiatives by the I&B Ministry and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) would severely limit development not just of pay TV but of the entire Indian communications industry.
A CASBAA study last year, titled ‘Regulating for Growth’, clearly demonstrated this linkage, underscoring the success of markets such as Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
“India can take immediate and enormous strides towards becoming a digital leader if it takes fundamental steps to loosen restraints on industry growth,” pointed out Davies, who added, “The size of Malaysia’s pay TV market, for instance, has doubled in the last three years.”
In other Asian markets, bidding for cable systems is generating offers of more than $1.5 billion each, yet little is being done to encourage fresh domestic or foreign investment into the India market.
CASBAA also believes that the proposed Broadcast Services Bill would create a new pay TV industry regulator, potentially subject to political interference.
“India needs to install a truly independent communications industry regulator. Regulatory decisions should be technical and quasi-judicial, responding to the demands of the fast-changing media environment, and not subject to transient political pressures,” said Davies.
CASBAA also highlighted items such as the recent TRAI decision to set maximum retail prices for all pay TV channels at Rs 5 per channel and the draft Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill (2006), which mandates local content requirements for every pay TV channel.
“Does the Government of India really believe that all TV channels have the same value, that a high cost movie channel should be priced in the same way as a channel dedicated to low cost chat shows? This makes no sense,” he added.
According to CASBAA, investment in high-quality content could quickly dry up as channel providers found they could not get an adequate return on their investment. The rate cap decision could quickly produce a race to the bottom in terms of content to the detriment of the viewers.
“It is now over two years since TRAI first instituted a cable price freeze, which it said would be temporary until the launch of DTH satellite services. Unfortunately, that understanding seems to have evaporated, even though we have two DTH platforms that are now competing ferociously with each other and with cable providers,” said Davies.
CASBAA also has serious concerns over a proposed 15 per cent ‘local content’ requirement for all channels aired in India, another example of regulation that will restrict the access of Indian viewers to premium content, especially international news, documentaries, sports and entertainment.
Many internationally focused channels do not have India-specific feeds. “How can a global news channel meet a 15 per cent local content requirement? News happens where it happens. The same applies to international sports. And how reasonable is it to expect niche channels from Italy or Australia or Germany or China to carry Indian programming?” asked Davis.
According to CASBAA, India’s content industries were already strong and did not need artificial life-support. “India’s film and television industry is now an export market and part of the global industry. Indeed, it benefits from the airing of Indian-generated TV programming in jurisdictions that don’t impose content quotas. The domestic market should operate in sync with the rest of the world and gain the full benefit of a global marketplace,” said Davies.
“Without taking account of the new digital world, India’s pay TV regulators will fall further and further behind global trends,” he warned.
CASBAA is an industry-based advocacy group for the promotion of multi-channel TV via cable, satellite, broadband and wireless video networks across the Asia-Pacific region. CASBAA represents nearly 110 Asia-based corporations.