Star India has published its Reference Interconnection Offer (RIO) following in the footsteps of broadcasting giants like Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, Sony Pictures Networks Pvt. Limited and Viacom18.
Contrary to expectations from several quarters, the rate card of Star’s television channels was uploaded on its website just before the special leave petition (SLP) filed by it is slated to be heard in the Supreme Court. A division bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Rohinton Fali Narman will adjudicate over Star’s plea for a stay on the tariff order and interconnect regulations on May 8.
While Star will be represented in court by the legal firm Karanjawala & Co., advocates Navin Chawla and Sanjay Kapur will advance arguments on behalf of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). Though Star has now published its RIO, the broadcaster did not comply with the May 2 deadline which was upheld by a division bench of the Madras High Court led by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee. The declaration at the bottom of Star’s rate card also made it amply clear that it was subject to various legal battles that the broadcaster was involved in.
“This rate card is without prejudice to rights and contentions of Star India Private Limited and Vijay Television Private Limited and subject to the outcome (of writ petitions pending before the Supreme Court, Madras High Court, Delhi High Court and Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT),” said Star India. Of the 35 standard-definition (SD) channels offered by the network, six channels, namely, Star Plus, Star Jalsha, Asianet and Star Sports 1, 3 and 4 have been priced per subscriber at a monthly rate of Rs 19. It is to be noted that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order guidelines prevent a pay channel from being priced by broadcasters and distributors above Rs 19 if it is being sold as part of a bouquet.
Apart from the SD channels, the rate card also specifies the monthly MRP of the 27 high-definition (HD) channels operated by the broadcaster. Interestingly, the publication of the RIO from Star’s side came amid reports that the broadcaster had sought ten additional days from TRAI to comply with the Madras HC’s ruling. However, exchange4media had reported on May 5 that Star was going to come out with its RIO soon. The rate card will be applicable from September 1 as per an undertaking given by TRAI in court.
The All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) and Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), the two interveners in the case pending before Madras HC, will keenly follow the developments arising out of the proceedings in the Supreme Court on Monday.
Previously, the Madras HC set June 12 as the final date of hearing in the tariff order dispute. “Enforcement and/or implementation of Clause 3 of tariff order on 02.05.2017 and all other consequences of such implementation/enforcement shall abide by the outcome of the main writ petitions,” said the Madras HC on April 28.
Entrusted with the responsibility of regulating the telecom and broadcasting sector by the central government, TRAI ran into a conflict with broadcasters when the draft tariff order first surfaced in October 2016. Star India, who is being seen as leading the private broadcasting fraternity’s charge against TRAI, has firmly argued that the regulator has overstepped its jurisdiction by pricing content through its tariff order. On the other hand, TRAI has expressed confidence in the fact that its actions are in consonance with the TRAI Act, 1997. In early March, the Supreme Court allowed TRAI to notify the tariff order regulations while simultaneously directing the Madras HC to dispose of the case in two months time.