Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has issued a consultation paper on ‘Distribution of TV channels from broadcasters to platform operators’ to curtail the influence of the distribution companies handling the network of more than one broadcaster. Lately there have been complaints by few MSOs against distribution agencies commanding substantial influence over pricing and negotiation.
The paper, which was released on August 6, stated, “The authorised distribution agencies wield substantial negotiating power which can be, and is often, misused leading to several market distortions.”
The paper further stated, “The current regulatory stipulation for broadcasters and their authorised agencies and the current role and activities of authorised distribution agencies, prompts the need to review the present regulatory framework. While this was under examination, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) also sent a reference to TRAI stating that there have been several complaints from Multi System Operators (MSOs) about the modus operandi of such entities. For example, it has been highlighted that MSOs are forced to subscribe to certain packages. Concerns have been vehemently voiced by various MSOs and LCOs regarding the monopolistic practices of such major authorised distribution agencies of broadcasters, in view of their control over a large number of popular channels.”
The Authority has asked stakeholders to send their written comments on the draft paper by August 27. TRAI has insisted that the present regulatory framework needs to be amended by adding provisions that clearly demarcate the role that can be assigned by the broadcasters to their authorised distribution agencies.
TRAI, in the consultation paper, has recommended two sub clauses in regulation 2 of the Telecommunication Interconnections regulations, 2012 and the Tariff Order, and proposed two sub clauses in section 3C of the Tariff Order:
1. If a broadcaster appoints a person as its authorised distribution agent, it shall ensure that
A. There is no change in the composition of its bouquet provided by the authorised distribution agent to distributors of TV channels
B. Its authorised distribution agent does not bundle its bouquet or channels with the bouquet or channels of other broadcasters
C. While acting as an authorised distribution agent, such person acts for and on behalf of the broadcaster
2. Every broadcaster shall ensure that the authorised distribution agent appointed by it shall
A. Not publish Reference Interconnection Offer by itself or on the behalf of the broadcaster
B. Not enter an Interconnection Agreement with the distributor of TV channels
The paper also has proposed a pricing structure in case the bouquet of the comprising channel gets reconfigured.
Various distribution companies in India operate on the modus operandi of multiple network distribution. ZEE and STAR Group entered into a distribution alliance called Media Pro, which distributes a combined bouquet of channels for the two networks.
Likewise, The One Alliance Company distributes signals for MSM Group, Discovery, Times Television Network, TV Today and Neo Sports. Viacom18, TV18, A+E Networks and Eenadu Group are distributed through distribution arm Indiacast Media Distribution.
The recommendation of the consultation paper, if implemented, is likely to have major influence over the distribution infrastructure of the broadcast networks.