The cable operators, largely belonging to the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF), are out in open against broadcasters on the issue of a hike in MRP of channels and bouquets in compliance with the amended new tariff order (NTO 3.0) implemented by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
Both sides are threatening each other to switch off the channels. The non-compliant distribution platform operators (DPOs) are demanding the rollback of increased MRPs and bouquet pricing. On the other hand, broadcasters are pressing for signing the RIO deal in compliance with NTO 3.0.
While these conflicts are not new to the broadcast industry, the ongoing tussle gains significance in the backdrop of the upcoming IPL season.
After the media rights of the IPL were divided into two parts - with Star India retaining TV rights and digital going to Reliance-owned Viacom18 - both companies are not only trying to woo the viewers but also trying to prove superiority over each other to grab a larger share in advertising money.
In this context, a video of Reliance-owned Hathway running a scroll on Star Sports channel stating that the channel may be switched off is being seen as a battle between Reliance and Star instead of cable operators versus broadcasters.
“Dear consumers; the broadcaster has made a steep increase in the prices pursuant to the new tariff order by TRAI. Please note that Broadcaster may switch off the channel from our platform as we have decided to protect the interest of the consumers against any hike in channel prices. Request your cooperation,” read the Hathway scroll running on the Star Sports channel.
Reliance-owned Hathway running a disconnection warning on the Star Sports channel pic.twitter.com/y7h5rdKbmp— BestMediaInfo (@BestMediaInfo) February 17, 2023
A source at TRAI told BestMediaInfo.com that all the RIOs signed previously expired on January 31 and the broadcasters are in violation of the regulation if they are making their feed available to a platform without signing a new deal effective from February 1.
When asked about the legal standing of the Hathway scroll, the TRAI source said that the amended new tariff order is very much in place in absence of any stay from any court. AIDCF and their members have filed multiple petitions in several courts.
In this context, all the channels running without signing the new RIO and any action thereof do not hold any validity.
“You cannot say you will not comply with the regulation on the pretext of pendency of the matter in the court. It is akin to dictating regulators to make policies that suit one party,” the source at the regulator added.
While Kerala and Karnataka High Courts have refused to stay the amended new tariff order and posted the case for hearings on later dates, AIDCF has filed a fresh plea before the Kerala HC after leading broadcasters sent disconnection notices to their member DPOs.
The fresh petition is likely to be taken up on Friday by the Kerala HC.
A representative of a DPO told BestMediaInfo.com that the hike in MRPs and bouquets is exorbitant and a deterrent to the survival of the already struggling cable sector.
Responding to this, a senior broadcast executive said, “In all the versions of NTO, broadcasters were free to fix any price for their channels. The twin conditions imposed on the formation of the bouquet are done away with after rigorous consultations with the stakeholders. How can broadcasters be forced not to increase the prices.”
“There is a WhatsApp message doing the rounds showing a steep rise in bouquet prices. If you see the hike in the total bill for a consumer, it is actually 10% after four years. It is not a matter of protecting the interests of consumers but their own interests,” the broadcast executive added.
The WhatsApp message:
The DPO representative quoted above also pointed out the conditions added to the RIO deals.
“Broadcasters are asking for 85-90% coverage of their bouquets in DPO’s packages to be eligible for incentives. Earlier it used to be 75%. After the price hike, we fear that the consumer would choose a-la-carte channels instead of our packages. How can both the things happen at the same time?” said the DPO representative.
Responding to the concerns regarding bouquet coverage, the TRAI source said that this is a matter to be solved across the table.
“Broadcasters are ready to resolve this issue through individual negotiations. The overall price hike is 5-10% and the coverage clause is negotiable. If the stalemate continues even after this, then this is something else and not a matter of a price hike,” the source at the regulator added.