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TRAI’s fresh consultation on NTO attracts opposing views from broadcasters & cable operators

Terms such as ‘unwanted’ and ‘popular’ channels become bone of contention, yet again

Broadcasters and distribution platforms appear to be in complete contradiction in their replies to the consultation paper floated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on NTO 2.0.

While Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF) and News Broadcasters and Digital Association have outrightly opposed any idea of price ceiling of a channel for inclusion in a bouquet, the cable operators body All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) has backed the Rs 12 cap as prescribed by the authority in NTO 2.0.

AIDCF also wants the channels’ prices to be capped at Rs 12, with or without bouquet conditions, indicating that the previous dispensation at TRAI drafted NTO 2.0 one-sided in their favour but could not meet their entire list of wishes.

On the other hand, broadcasters have challenged the term “popular channels” and urged that it should be left to market forces to decide a price point of any product or content.

IBDF submitted that the active subscriber base of pay TV users has shrunk exponentially since the implementation of the NTO 1 as per TRAI’s own assessment. Active paid subscriptions reduced from 131 million in 2020 to 125 million in 2021.

“This is because any regulatory intervention, though well-intentioned, in the pricing of channels, which should be prerogative of the broadcaster (who is the owner of copyright in the content on the channel as well as the broadcast reproduction right in the telecast of such content), is counter-productive and has a cascading effect on broadcasters’ content / channel offering and business. The implementation of NTO 1 also impacted subscription revenues, which witnessed a fall owing to the uncertainties caused by the NTO 1. Nonrenewal of subscription revenues, increased in the number of choices available to viewers for accessing fresh content and blackouts in the cable ecosystem led to erosion in the active subscriber base,” IBDF noted.

IBDF further added that the broadcasters are conscious of market dynamics and are keen to make available good content at affordable prices to consumers.

Broadcasters and cable operators’ bodies have opposite views on the issue of discounts on boquet pricing as well.

AIDCF has invoked the ‘unwanted channels’ theory to oppose any discount. It is important to note that the term ‘unwanted channels’ was pushed in TRAI’s new tariff order. then had headlined: No TRAI! English channels were not so unwanted to be killed.

With contradicting comments from the stakeholders in broadcasting business, the regulator will have a tough job at hand finding an amicable solution that actually benefits the key stakeholder, which is the consumer. The NTO has proven to be detrimental for all the stakeholders, including the consumer, so far.

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