The tussle between broadcasters and cable networks is being played out at the regulator’s office now. In two separate meetings with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman Pradip Baijal on Tuesday, broadcasters and cablewallahs rained brickbats on each other.
Through a presentation, broadcasters indicated to Mr Baijal that cable operators must be held responsible for all the ills in the industry, mainly lack of transparency. A few hours later, the cable fraternity asked the Trai chairman to regulate pay channels. Mr Baijal has asked the two parties for international case studies, before making his recommendations on several broadcasting issues.
If you are still wondering about the controversial conditional access system (CAS), broadcasters want it to be test marketed before a full implementation. This, despite CAS already being launched in Chennai and South of Delhi!
Coming to broader issues, while cable TV rates (as paid by consumers, cable operators, and multi-system operators) across the country were frozen by Trai recently, cap on advertising in pay channels may come up next. However, before there’s any move to regulate ads on pay channels, broadcasters have highlighted “lack of transparency” as a problem area. Of the total subscription kitty of Rs 6,000 crore in India, broadcasters get only 10-15 per cent of it, the industry has been complaining. Under-declaration of subscriber numbers was cited as a reason why there shouldn’t be any cap on advertisements in pay channels.
“Don’t restrict ad revenue stream as it will stifle industry’s growth and ability to re-invest,” the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) presentation said. It added: “Restrictions on ad time will severely hamper growth and competition in the broadcasting industry and increase cost to consumer besides impinging on basic freedom to media.”
As for Trai freezing the cable TV rates, IBF said: “Interim price order without consultation has created turmoil and uncertainty in the industry.” It has led to “potential litigation between stakeholders as legally valid contracts are being questioned,” broadcasters told Mr Baijal, adding that even new contracts cannot be negotiated because of that.
Cable operators, on the other hand, have said that pay channels must be regulated in every possible way, there should be a cap on ads in pay channels, and that Trai should make a distinction between what’s premium and what’s mass content.