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Deregulate entire TV broadcasting sector instead of regulating OTT, say top broadcasters

The government must relax regulations in the broadcasting sector if it wants it to prosper, say industry biggies at Ficci Frames

Though the government is batting for a regulatory structure for OTT platforms, the industry is pitching for an overall of the broadcasting sector, which includes removing unnecessary regulatory hurdles.

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During a panel discussion at the e-version of Ficci Frames, industry veterans said over-regulation has nearly killed the sector.

“Regulators should help linear television by deregulating it instead of focusing on regulating OTT content so that there is a balance there,” said Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP Network, at Day 2 of e-Ficci Frames 2020. Pandey also said the over-regulations have made it impossible for them to sell pay channels and caused an over-dependence on advertising. Pandey said the micro-management of the industry must stop.  “You don't do it for any other industry so why are you doing it for television?” he said.

Megha Tata, Managing Director, South Asia, Discovery Asia-Pacific, said the Indian M&E industry is one of the most regulated in the world. “We are such a heavily regulated sector, even to do some basic change in our organisations we have to take permission. So I think there is a need for a light-touch policy in the country, which we have been talking about,” she added. She said this needs to be done so that the industry grows in a healthy way.

Tata spoke about the regulatory practices adopted by other countries that allow them to grow and said broadcasters in India have no control. “Look at countries like Netherlands, US and the UK, they are all following a lighter adopted or light-touch regulatory approach, which has helped promote competition and growth of the industry. None of these countries has had regulations fixing pricing or discounting of the channels, in general, and these broadcasters have larger freedom to negotiate contracts with operators for the sale of the channel packages and these are very evolved economies and evolved industries in these countries.”

The panel spoke about the need for a shared infrastructure. “I think it's time now, especially in the backdrop of Covid-19 for MIB to now notify the infrastructure sharing,” said Vynsley Fernandes, Chief Executive Officer, Induslnd Media and Communications.

Telecom and broadcast are two very different businesses, agreed the panel. “Look at the telecom industry regulations, and look at regulation of the broadcast industry. Every single regulation for the broadcast industry has ended in litigation. While in the telecom industry, it has not. It has been smoothly accepted,” said Pandey.

He said despite there being self-regulation in the broadcast industry, the news players suffer from a larger number of complaints that they have to clarify. “Unfortunately in India, because it’s a country of complaints and bans, everybody wants a say in what content you’re running. The largest department, if you go to any news channel, is the department that deals with the complaints. Because we have created a self-regulatory body, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority; we receive complaints.” He gave the example of the Pulwama attack incident and said a video that was being widely shared on social media had to be restrained from being aired on news channels. 

Pandey pointed out the need for the regulator to help broadcasters during the crisis and said despite the government clarifying we come under the essential services, jobs were lost. “These essential services were shut down, people died. People got infected with Covid, their entire family got infected. We are still struggling with people's infection. People lost jobs, what has the regulator done?” said Pandey.

The panel discussed and agreed on the advantages of bringing in an independent regulator controlled by society in the frame. However, Fernandes said the industry does need a strong regulator. “You do need someone who deals with the industry with a firm hand. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with expanding that panel to include experts from the industry,” he said.

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