The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) new tariff order and regulatory framework for the broadcast sector is kicking in from December 29, 2018. But what does it mean for the consumer? Will your cable bill cost more? Will there be a blackout of TV channels? What will be the impact on TV broadcasters and cable and DTH operators? ET in the Classroom tries to answer all these questions and clears the air on the new order.
WHY DID TRAI BRING IN A COMPLETE NEW FRAMEWORK?
Trai believes that even after the mandatory switchover from analog to digital addressable systems of cable TV networks in March 2017, the objectives — transparency and real choice to the consumers — weren’t met. Hence, it initiated a comprehensive review of the entire framework. While Trai said its motive was to create a conducive environment for growth, various stakeholders did not see it that way. Star India’s Vijay TV even challenged the regulator’s jurisdiction in framing such tariff order in the Madras High Court. After a long legal battle, the Supreme Court on October 30, 2018, upheld the HC order in favour of Trai, paving the way for the implementation of the tariff order.
WHAT IS THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT THE NEW TARIFF ORDER?
Trai’s new tariff order allows consumers to decide what channels she wants to watch and pay only for those. So far, broadcasters and distribution platform operators (DPOs) such as cable and DTH players used to offer a lumpsum number of channels for a fee. All this will change with the new order as the broadcasters will have to offer all the channels on a-la-carte basis at their maximum-retail-price (MRP). While broadcasters worry that it will result in a drop of long-tail, or unpopular channels’ subscription, the DPOs are worried that their share of revenue will come down.
WILL THERE BE A BLACKOUT OF TV CHANNELS?
Trai chairman has said that the authority is working along with the broadcasters and DPOs on a transition plan and there won’t be any blackout during that time.
HOW WILL NEW TARIFF ORDER CHANGE CONSUMERS’ LIFE?
With the new tariff order, a consumer will have complete control on which TV channels she wants to watch. The new framework mandates that every channel will have to be offered on a-la-carte basis and the MRP has to be displayed on TV screen through the electronic program guide. The broadcasters and distributors (cable & DTH players) can offer bouquets of channels, but price of bouquets are also required to be published transparently.
ARE DPOS READY FOR THE TRANSFORMATION?
While many multi-systemoperators (MSOs) and a few DTH operators have informed Trai of their readiness onground, some players have been seeking an extension. While Trai chairman has refused to push the deadline, the transition plan will allow broadcasters and DPOs to gradually shift to a new framework without worrying about any coercive action from the regulator.
WILL YOUR CABLE BILL RISE?
Under the new regime, distribution platforms can charge a maximum of ?130 from subscribers as the network capacity fee for 100 channels. These 100 channels will include 24 mandatory channels from Prasar Bharati. A customer can select free-to-air or pay channels after that. In case of FTA channels, she will not have to pay anything extra; in case of pay channels, only the price of the channels/ bouquets will have to be paid separately. If a subscriber opts for more than 100 channels, she will have to pay additional capacity fee of ?20 per 25 channels.
WILL YOU GET FEWER CHANNELS?
At present, viewers are being provided a large number of TV channels, many of which are not used by them at all. With the new framework, subscribers will not be pushed. Trai reckons that if a consumer chooses channels of her choice, the amount payable by her may be even less than the present payments being made per month.
DOES THE REGULATION ADDRESS ISSUES OF BROADCASTERS?
Trai has removed the price caps from channels and allowed broadcasters to fix the MRP of their channels under complete forbearance. One of the channels has been priced at ?1,800 per month. Flexibility has also been provided to broadcasters to offer a bouquet of channels for consumers and prescribe MRP of the same. However, a broadcaster cannot club pay-and-free channels together, or offer premium channels (priced over 19 per month) in the bouquet.