Broadcasters keep wishlist ready for new I&B Minister

From continued thrust on digitisation to a more reasonable ad cap, removal of carriage fees to more openness on self regulation - b'casters have several expectations

e4m by Abid Hasan
Published: May 19, 2014 10:05 AM  | 5 min read
Broadcasters keep wishlist ready for new I&B Minister

It may be recalled that Manish Tewari, Minister for Information and Broadcasting had told exchange4media earlier that he didn’t know anything about digitisation when he took the charge as Minster in October 2012.

This week India will choose its 15th I&B Minster and broadcasters are hoping that a lot will be achieved and done in the coming five years.

exchange4media spoke some of the leading news broadcaster about what their expectations from the upcoming Information and Broadcasting Minister.
K V L Narayan Rao, Executive Vice Chairperson, NDTV and President, News Broadcasting Association highlighted some key points.

He said, “Broadcasters, particularly news broadcasters, would have the following expectations from the new government:
• To further strengthen self/independent regulation. All broadcasters whether news or non- news, must fall under the authority of the NBSA (for news)  or BCCI (for other genres). An independent media is crucial for a democracy.

• To reduce Carriage fees (under any name) substantially, even eliminate them. There is no place for carriage fees in a digitized environment and continuing high carriage fees are making the business of broadcasting unviable.

• To ensure that fair subscription revenues flow to broadcasters in keeping with world norms. At the moment barely 10 per cent of total revenues come from subscriptionand even that is concentrated in the hands of a few broadcasters. We must get to at least 50 per cent of revenues coming from subscription. A consistently available alternative to advertisement revenues is essential.

•  To eliminate the ad cap altogether and let the market forces decide. If a viewer finds the content, including advertisements, on a channel bothersome, he always has the choice not to watch that channel. Even if it is felt that an ad cap must eventually apply, it should be a rational cap that is only applied when the carriage fees and subscription revenues problem is sorted out completely.”

ABP News CEO and Vice President, NBA, Ashok Venkatramani wants the upcoming minister to continue to drive the digitisation agenda for the broadcasting industry and find a lasting solution to the menace of carriage fees which continues unabated.

“I would like the minister to take a decisive step in putting a reasonable cap on it”, said Venkatramani.

The most difficult thing for the broadcaster in last few years was to deal with the regulator TRAI. There have been times when regulator came up with different recommendations and news broadcasters sought the help of High Court.

Venkatramani said, “The minister should convince the TRAI to work out a sensible solution, with the small and news broadcasters in working out a time bound phased reduction of the ad inventory to reasonable cap so that it gets implemented after digitization is completed.”

He also highlighted that it should be made mandatory for all holders of news channel licenses to mandatorily comply with the NBSA guidelines for self regulation of the news content.

He felt that DAVP rates need to be revisited for the TV industry. “These rates have been stuck at unreasonable and unsustainable levels and should be linked to the prevailing market rates and the investments made by channels on reach.”

When asked his expectations from the upcoming minister, summarising in one line, Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati, said, “Frank, open discourse and positive steps to professionalise.”

The ad cap and digitisation effect has been challenging for every news broadcaster be it Hindi or English broadcaster. There are many news channels who own not more than one channel and India TV is one of them.

Highlighting some of the major issues and sharing high anticipation, Ritu Dhawan, MD and CEO, India TV said, “The sub-judice & proposed ad cap regime of 10+2 minutes should be removed completely for news channels, if not permanently, at least till the digitization process is complete. The same directly relates to the existence of news channels & directly impacts the millions who directly or indirectly work for the industry.”

Dhawan also mentioned that free to air channels specifically those which have already created pull for themselves must be allowed to operate without the carriage fees and yearly permission renewal for the channels to be changed to once in three years.

While Anurradha Prasad, Chairperson & Managing Director, B.A.G. said, “Basically we want the minister to ensure our subscription money. The money that consumers pay should come back to the broadcaster and the digitisation process should continue.”

While there are several matters the upcoming minister will have to address,  FDI is one of them.

Anmol Saxena, Bureau Chief, India, Al Jazeera International said, “The expectation of the industry from the new government would be to continue the digitisation push. We would also like to see clarity through the new proposed broadcast policy about video feed transfer. We would also like the government to stream line visa policy for journalists wanting to work in India.”

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