Last week, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman RS Sharma had emphatically come out in support of safeguarding the interests of both broadcasters and subscribers. Speaking of the proposed regulatory framework for broadcast and cable services, he said, “This ensures that broadcasters who invest in the content creation and content aggregation are able to price their products.”
The former Chief Secretary to the Government of Jharkhand stated that the administration was opposed to dictating prices as the said prerogative belonged to broadcasters. “It is your product and whatever price you want to sell your product, you should be free to sell that product at that price,” Sharma said.
However, the TRAI Chairman noted that the government will put into place a notional price ceiling while simultaneously giving broadcasters their due. “We will provide some kind of ceiling largely notional in that sense,” he added.
For Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO at Viacom 18 Media Private Limited, the TRAI Chairman’s remark was only reflective of the draft framework released by TRAI after consultations with stakeholders. “I think what he meant was that there was going to be some genre-wise price cap for channels as prescribed in the draft regulatory framework.”
On October 10, TRAI had released the salient features of the draft tariff order. “Genre-wise ceiling on MRP of channels have been prescribed,” it said. Premium channels are nevertheless exempt from the price ceiling. “Broadcasters can introduce ‘Premium’ channels which have no ceiling on MRP and will be offered to subscribers only on a-la-carte basis,” mentioned the draft tariff order.
Another point of concern that was raised by Sharma was the incidence of disputes in the broadcasting sector. “Let me tell you that TRAI regulates two sectors i.e. telecom and broadcasting. The number of litigations in broadcasting is huge if you compare the number of partners or players involved,” he said.
Terming the broadcast sector as a “nascent industry”, Kartikeya Sharma observed that the nature of policy governing the sector has also been evolving. In his opinion, disputes are a result of lack of clarity in terms of regulatory framework. “We need a clear-cut policy that stipulates the rules and responsibilities of broadcasters and distributors,” said Sharma, Founder & Promoter of ITV Network.
According to him, the number of litigations is bound to go down drastically if there are unambiguous precedents that broadcasters can abide by. Unlike Sharma, RK Arora felt that such disputes are unlikely to go away in the immediate future. “They will not be solved and will stay with the industry. It is like a cycle that will continue,” he said referring to the litigations.
The former CEO of Zee Media Corporation explained that there are broadly three kinds of disputes in the broadcasting sector. In the case of pay channels, broadcasters file cases when they do not receive payments from multiple-system operators (MSO). Broadcasters also resort to legal recourse whenever cheques of their advertisers bounce.
When it comes to free-to-air channels, cable operators act against broadcasters when carriage fee is not recovered by them. Reflecting on the prevailing condition, Arora added, “I don’t expect any change until there is an improvement in the condition of free-to-air channels.”