New Delhi: The broadcasting sector is in turmoil what with the number of pay TV subscribers falling in millions, barely six months after introduction of the New Tariff Order (NTO) in February this year.
Industry sources say NTO was supposed to be a game changer for the sector by bringing in the much-needed transparency, accountability and quality of services, putting the consumer at the centre.
TV viewers are upset that their subscription has gone up. The spotlight is thus back on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), the regulator, which had promulgated the tariff order with repeated assertions that the monthly subscription being paid by consumers will come down.
Sources in the broadcasting sector stated that may be the regulator did not go to the bottom of the issue, as to what had led to the increase in consumers’ bills despite the NTO. Available data indicates that the hike in monthly subscription of Rs 130 plus GST and additional Rs 20 for 25 additional channels are the real reasons for the upward spike in tariff.
Market inquiries reveal that subscribers, who are price conscious, feel they have been short-changed by distributors with the help of Trai, as not only has their monthly subscription increased, but the number of TV channels available to them has also reduced.
In the earlier tariff regime, distributors charged no more than Rs 100 for a base pack and gave households 150 channels. As per the new norm, the total basic monthly payout provides for only 100 FTA channels, where distributors have the upper hand in deciding what to offer.
It is felt that cable operators are not entertaining requirements of subscribers but pushing their own set of TV channels, which suit their business interests. Smaller regional and news channels that are the real voice in the regions that they operate, may thus have to shut shop, sources maintained.
Domain experts believe that if there are any changes in contours of the broadcast tariff, it could lead to cataclysmic consequences for the country’s cable and satellite television sector.
According to KPMG’s latest report on the media and entertainment sector, the new regulatory framework has already reduced the number of pay TV subscribers by 12–15 million this year.
An international expert on the Indian broadcasting sector observed that television is creative and should not be treated like a "service" by Trai. "Does TRAI understand how the creative sector works? Or it still deems broadcasting as a service, which was the regulator’s original mandate when it was given the charge of regulating the telecom sector," the domain expert asked.
According to an industry expert, Trai, in its zeal to protect "broadcasting services", has put "broadcasters" in a disadvantaged position with frequent and tough regulatory interventions, which undermine investments made in the sector. Another grouse against the regulator is that it disproportionately regulates broadcasters and distributors. The domain expert pointed out that while the regulator "regulates" broadcasting services like cable and DTH, it "controls" broadcasters.
This raises serious questions about the intent and objective of the so-called independent regulator. Stakeholders have also questioned the mandatory telecasting of Doordarshan channels as part of the 100 channels.