New Delhi: Leading television broadcasters, including Star India Pvt. Ltd, Zee Telefilms Ltd and SET Discovery Pvt. Ltd have opposed a proposal by the country’s telecom and broadcast regulator to allow satellite-based ‘direct to home’ (DTH) television firms to pick and choose channels they want to carry.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had, in March, started a public consultation after receiving complaints from DTH firms that broadcasters were forcing them to carry all their channels, in return for giving them the ones they wanted.
The practice of “bundling of channels” prevented the DTH operator from giving consumers the option of choosing and paying only for the channels they wanted and artificially kept prices high, Dish TV India Ltd and Tata Sky Ltd, two of India’s biggest DTH operators, had argued.
Bundling or making the availability of one channel conditional on the purchase of all the other channels helps broadcasters push less popular channels.
In response, Trai had mooted the idea of scrapping a regulation that gave the broadcaster the right to insist that all its channels were carried by the DTH-service firm.
“The terms of the DTH licence already provide for non-discriminatory carriage of all channels by DTH Platform Operators...”, said Star India in its response to Trai, opposing the scrapping of ‘must carry’ obligations on DTH operators and echoing the sentiments of other broadcasters—Sony-Discovery, Zee, Zoom Television and Times Now.
But Star, whose Hong Kong parent also has a stake in Tata Sky, suggested that DTH providers be allowed choice in the channels they wanted to carry, but only if broadcasters are also given the choice to decide the television delivery company they wanted to deal with.
Under current rules, cable and DTH television firms are obliged to carry all the channels provided by the broadcaster and the broadcasters are to supply any channel demanded by the DTH provider. But, this rule, intended to prevent anti-competitive behaviour, led to technical problems at DTH firms as the number of channels exceeded 150.
Star said allowing broadcasters the right to choose DTH platforms would encourage differentiation and niche players in an industry that is likely to see the number of operators go up to five by the end of the year. “If all the DTH operators have access to all the channels, how will any operator distinguish itself?” asked Paritosh Joshi, Star India’s president of distribution.
This suggestion of allowing broadcasters choose their preferred DTH operators was opposed by new entrants Reliance Bluemagic Ltd and Bharti Telemedia Ltd.
Reliance Bluemagic, the yet-to-be-launched DTH services from the Anil Ambani group, urged Trai to look at pricing individual channels.