In April this year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had come up with a pre-consultation paper on the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ for the broadcast sector. The authority had invited comments on the paper from the stakeholders before May 8, 2017.
The stakeholders were asked to express their concerns over issues related to processes and procedures for obtaining permission/license/registration for broadcasting services and subsequent compliances; allocation of broadcasting spectrum and other issues.
The authority received 18 comments on the pre-consultation paper and drafted a consultation paper on the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in the broadcast sector basis on these comments. TRAI brought out the issues raised by the stakeholders and sought further comments before it implements the consultation paper.
Here are the broad pointers discussed in the consultation paper released on July 31, 2017:
Multi stage application process
The grant of permission of satellite TV channels involves other ministries/ departments of the governments such as Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Department of Revenue (DOR) and Department of Space (DOS). Further, all internal and inter-ministerial processes are presently done manually. It has been submitted by stakeholders that the process of approval is a lengthy one and usually takes three to six months’ time. Several stakeholders across the broadcasting value chain submitted that the lengthy processes and multiple permissions spanning different ministries and agencies is a hindrance to the ease of doing business. They submitted a need for harmonisation and streamlining of permission process with clear cut timelines so that they can plan their business accordingly.
Permission to appoint a key official
The broadcaster is required to seek prior permission from MIB for effecting any change of directors/ key personnel during the currency of permission for TV channels. The MIB grants such permission after obtaining security clearance from MHA. The stakeholders submitted that this stipulation of prior permission creates practical problems and difficulties in appointments and change of key executives when the approval from MIB gets delayed inordinately. They submitted that there are other statutory requirements under Companies Act/ SEBI regulations that mandate timely appointment of key executives of the company. Such delays in clearance in a way result in non-compliance of other statutory requirements prescribed under different regulations of Government of India.
Annual renewal/ Permission for changes
The permission for uplinking and downlinking of channel is granted for an initial period of 10 years subject to annual renewal. During pre-consultation some stakeholders have pointed out that the present system of grant of annual renewal of TV channel permission is fraught with delays, as a result of which sometimes channels are being run without annual renewal. This has cascading effect on the commercial transactions of broadcasters with DPOs and other stakeholders in the value chain. Such provisions can easily be simplified by doing away with annual renewal processes. MIB can make provisions under which permission granted to broadcasters can be withdrawn by giving a prior notice even when broadcaster has permission for longer period.
Besides annual renewal, broadcasters are also required to seek MIB’s approval/ permission for change in name of the channel, addition of languages, change in channel logo, and others. Stakeholders are of the view that such changes are generally required depending upon their business plans. Therefore, it would be in their business interest to get these permissions at the earliest. The stakeholders pointed out that prior approvals are required from MIB to effect any one of these changes, involves elaborate documentation and it is a time consuming process.
HD/SD variant of same channel
At present, SD and HD formats carrying same feed are considered separate channels and permissions are granted separately. A TV channel may have to take permission for its three different versions namely SD, HD and 4K. The TV channel permission is being granted by MIB for Hindi/ English/ regional languages as a TV channel can simultaneously have multiple sound signals of different languages and the subscribers can select their preferred language. In this scenario, it is relevant to examine as to whether broadcasters may be permitted to use different variants of a TV channel such as SD, HD and 4K when content of the TV channel remains same in all versions and there is only format change involved, with a single permission instead of having separate permission for each of variant.
As per extant policy framework, the non-news and current affairs TV channels are not permitted to carry live feeds of any event without prior string of permissions from MIB and few other bodies. This restriction creates problem in coverage of live events of national importance and other events of public interest. This results in denial of wider coverage of such events in the broadcast media.
MIB grants TV channel permission under two categories only namely “news and current affairs” and “non-news and current affairs” channels. Sports TV channel have specific requirement of carrying larger part of live feeds which need to be sent from the place of the event to their central production facility. This is the area of concern identified by the sports broadcasters as they are not permitted to uplink live feeds without having a prior permission from MIB for the coverage of the sports event. The sports broadcasters are also not permitted to use SNG/ DSNG for uplinking of such live sports events without prior permission as SNG/DSNG can be operated by the news and current affairs broadcasters only. The sports broadcasters who are duly permitted to operate their TV channels, should not require any separate permission regime to avail the services from approved SNG/DSNG operators.
In Phase-III expansion of FM radio, 966 FM radio channels are to be made available in 333 cities. So far FM sector has seen significant growth. However the successful bidders have to seek multiple clearances from WPC which need to be simplified with a clear cut timelines.
Issues related to indigenous manufacturing
India is well known for huge market for set top box due to the digitisation of Cable TV sector. In addition, the thriving DTH sector also contributed huge demand of STBs in the country. At present, there are about 62 million private DTH subscribers in the country besides nearly 20 million FTA consumers of DD free dish. Majority of these STBs have been imported from countries like China, Korea, etc. On the other hand, it has been reported by industry that domestic STB manufacturers has not been able to match with their counterpart in the foreign countries due to non-availability of easy access to financial assistance or investment in the sector.