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Pick and pay for any DTH channels from September
Published on 23 Jul. 2010 11:32 PM IST
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DTH and internet television providers will have to allow consumers to choose and pay for only those channels they want to watch, besides a minimum monthly fee of Rs 150 latest by January next, the sector regulator said in its new tariff order released on Thursday. But the Telecom Regulator Authority of India (Trai) restrained itself from fixing tariffs for individual channels, although it reduced the maximum amount broadcasters can charge direct-to-home (DTH), Internet protocol television (IPTV) and digital cable providers for channels.
“As the market forces appear to be operating effectively, the authority is of the view that there is no need for regulatory intervention in the matter of retail tariff fixation at present,” it said in its tariff order.
The tariff order comes into force in September but DTH providers have time till January to offer all pay channel on a stand-alone basis to consumers. In fact, some DTH providers offer monthly channel packs for around 100, much less than the minimum charge Trai has fixed. The regulator, however, said that no digital television service provider can increase the charges of subscription package for a minimum six months from the date of enrolment of the subscriber. But they are free to reduce charges.
The regulator also reduced the maximum broadcasters can charge these digital TV providers to almost one-third of what they charge analogue cable operators, provoking sharp reaction from the broadcasting fraternity.
“Members of Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) will soon have a meeting to look into legal action,” said Jawahar Goel, president of the largest organization of broadcasters in the country. “The formula by which the regulator has worked out the cap of 35% is contentious,” he said.
Broadcasters have to make available TV channels to distributors of “addressable system” (DTH, HITS, IPTV and digital addressable Cable TV) on a la carte as well as bouquets basis at a maximum of 35% of the corresponding rates for non-addressable cable TV services as per the tariff order. The earlier cap was 50%. The broadcasters may approach the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), which is authorized to address all disputes in the telecommunications space, against the tariff order, said two senior executives with leading broadcasters who refused to be quoted.
The broadcasters are also unhappy that the regulator did not address the issue of carriage fee, or the money DTH and cable operators charge broadcasters for carrying their channels, which they say is unreasonably high. DTH players and multi-system operators (MSOs), meanwhile, welcomed Trai’s move to lower content rates for both DTH and digital cable, saying it will boost digitalisation of television content.
“The new rates could bring some relief for the loss-making DTH industry,” said Vikram Kaushik, MD of DTH service provider Tata Sky. He, however, said the companies will have to re-engineer subscriber systems to provide channels on a-la-carte basis. Ajai Puri, CEO of Airtel Digital Television, the DTH arm of Airtel, said the content cost for addressable systems like DTH should be even lower as under-declaration of subscriber number is rampant among analogue service providers.

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