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| Updated on December 30, 2018 Published on December 30, 2018

TRAI’s order on broadcast and cable tariffs finally puts choice in the hands of the consumer

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s latest regulation on fixing tariffs for the broadcasting sector augurs well for millions of TV viewers across the country. If implemented properly, this promises to bring down the overall payout for most consumers and also ensure transparency in the way broadcasters charge for channels. Under the new regulation distributors of television channels can charge a monthly rental amount of maximum ₹130 per month from a subscriber for 100 Standard Definition channels. In addition, viewers may subscribe to any other paid channel on an a la carte basis.

According to the regulator, 80 per cent subscribers, as per the viewing pattern given by BARC, either view or flip 40 or less number of channels. Instead of paying for a bouquet of hundreds of unwanted channels, a consumer can carefully choose channels of her choice. For far too long, cable operators and DTH players have collected a fee even for channels which one rarely watches. While the new tariff order will put the control back into the consumer’s hands, one of the downsides is that it could skew viewership patterns, impacting discoverability of content offered by new channels. The onus will be on broadcasters to make sure that the content is top quality or they may lose out to competing channels or other platforms including streaming service providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime. For broadcasters, with full price forbearance, they can now fix the maximum retail price of a pay channel for consumers. The concept of a broadcaster giving channels to the distributor at wholesale prices and the distributor retailing it to the consumer is given a go by. The worry though is that broadcasters may increase fees for highly popular channels. The TRAI must keep a strict watch against such a move. The regulator has also made sure that viewers do not have to face blackout of channels in the event of a dispute between the broadcaster and the DTH player. The broadcasting sector is plagued with litigations between various players and it is consumers who bear the brunt of such disputes. For example, recently subscribers of Tata Sky were left in the lurch after the DTH company decided to block all channels by Sony Pictures Networks. The new regulation has provisions for a clear interconnect regime aimed at ensuring that such disputes do not impact viewers.

The only missing part in the new regulation is interoperability of set-top boxes. Though the regulator has said that it will look at adopting interoperability at a later stage, introducing this now would have truly broken the shackles to set TV viewers free of any specific platform. As it is India is witnessing a strong wave of consumer migration from cable TV to streaming services. Thanks to the explosion in cheap and fast broadband combined with good quality content outside traditional media outlets, eyeballs are shifting away from linear TV. TRAI’s intervention should therefore serve as a wake-up call to TV channels and DTH providers.

Published on December 30, 2018

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