TV distribution: Despite digitisation, old woes continue to haunt stakeholders

Issues such as high carriage fees, disputes with LCOs, MSOs & DTH players, and the unorganised market at the grassroot level continue to be the bone of contention for all stakeholders

e4m by Abhinav Trivedi
Updated: Dec 18, 2013 9:35 AM
TV distribution: Despite digitisation, old woes continue to haunt stakeholders

The broadcasting industry had huge respite when the Government announced digitisation across India. The television distribution industry which was  (and still largely is) unorganized had to be organized to give much better experience to the end consumers, collect revenue for broadcasters and reduce their carriage burden and also collect due taxes for the Government.

Broadcasters still face hurdles on the distribution front. The Government intends to complete Phases 3 and 4 of the digitisation process by December 2014. Largely major metros and towns with million plus population have been covered. What are the various issues/ developments which are bothering the stakeholders on this side? Talking to stakeholders on the broadcasting, content aggregators, DTH, MSO and the LCO fraternity following points came out:

Carriage fees and Subscription revenues
Carriage fee, the fee paid by the broadcasters for the right positioning of their channel is still high. Broadcasters feel that the little subscription revenue which they command from operations is negated with high carriage fees. Manjit Singh, IBF president in an earlier interaction with e4m had mentioned that “the carriage fees has gone down considerably, but is not enough”. Broadcasters have also said that with pace of digitization the carriage fee has not gone down as much as was expected.  Also some broadcasters say that they are not getting their fair subscription revenue. Rajesh Kaul, President One-Alliance distribution which is a content aggregator for MSM, Discovery and Times group had shared “In the initial phases we had sacrificed our share of subscription as MSOs had installed set top boxes but now it is time that we get our fare share”.

Disputes with DTH Players
The recent dispute between Indiacast and Dish TV has only highlighted that not everything is well on the DTH side as well. Dish TV and Indiacast recently got into a dispute with each other. In this context the latter issued advertisement in the leading dailies asking subscribers of Dish TV to either talk to the Dish TV call centre or switch to other DTH or cable operators as according to the advertisement the leading channels of the Indiacast bouquet will be disrupted from January 1, 2014 on their platform.

Also some senior sources in the industry have suggested that other disputes between broadcasters and DTH players might come into limelight.

DTH technology alteration
On the Tata Sky platform recently, some channels suddenly disappeared. The screen then notified that the set top box needs to be replaced from MPGE2 to MPGE4. The replacement is free of cost, but the annual maintenance fee is chargeable. Reportedly many subscribers are not happy with the sudden blackout of some of the channels, which according to the DTH operator might not be available due to technology issues. As per sources the move has been initiated by the DTH operator for technological upgradation only. Senior sources suggest that the move has been taken to increase the bandwidth and add more channels in the bouquet, but the sudden blackout has not gone down well with many consumers.

LCOs/ MSOs Vs Broadcasters vs TRAI
Recently the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued a ten days timeline to all the MSOs to collect all the Consumer Application Forms (CAF) from the customers. Some MSOs though have suggested that it is the issues between the LCOs and the regulator which is affecting the entire process. Since digitization has come into effect LCOs and MSOs have to disclose the exact number of subscribers and the transaction. LCOs at the grassroot have not been completely satisfied with the way things have developed. Some have complained that MSOs thrust their power on them while some complain about the broadcasters. The number of petitions in the TDSAT court involving content aggregators, LCOs, MSOs and TRAI has tripled in the last few months.

Recently there was an instance where signals of the channels were altered. DEN and Hathway recently blocked and in some markets altered the signals of the Sony channel. MSOs alleged that the channel demanded unnecessary subscription fee and did not pay required carriage fee for the purpose. The allegation had been refuted by the broadcaster and while the issue has been resolved such developments only highlight issues.

Muscle (Monopoly) Power
TRAI has regularly issued directives, guidelines and consultation papers regarding reports of monopoly game being practiced. As per TRAI, in certain markets where a MSO has a stronghold, it does not logically negotiate with the content aggregators and compels them to enter into forced contracts. On the other hand there are also some markets where content aggregators owing to the large bouquet of channels they exhibit force MSOs to enter into deals unacceptable to them. There are also reports of ‘contract fee’ charged by some aggregators. All these issues have regularly been raised by the TRAI.

Also in a market like Chennai the pace of digitization is not even 5% as the distribution is governed more by political forces and not the market forces to which TRAI also expressed serious concern.

Unorganised deals
Stakeholders on both the sides – broadcasters and MSOs – have indicated that in some cases commercial negotiations are influenced more by what a competitor is commanding on the respective side and not by what is the logical cost. Various MSOs and broadcasters have allegedly made such claims towards each other. 

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