Cable Operators Up in Arms

06 Aug,2018

 

By Indrani Sen

 

Recently, cable operators have raised an objection to the new tariff order issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as they feel that the new directives would have more negative impact on their business. The All Cable Operators Association of India (ALCOAI) has brought their problems to the notice of TRAI in writing twice during the last one month. The Association claims that the cable operators have suffered losses running into crores in the last financial year due to the promotion of the OTT platforms by the broadcasting companies and the consumers taking advantage of the alternative viewing options.

In its tariff order, TRAI has directed broadcasters to declare the maximum retail price (MRP) and nature of all their channels within 60 days from the date of notification issued on 03.07.2018.  However, there is no directiveon the tariff rates for telecasting the same programme content on internet via over the top (OTT) platforms. As per the current rules, the broadcasting companies can stream the channels on internet without having to worry about the tariff order or any permission from the government for downlnking the content.

The ALCOAI has pointed out that due to technological changes, they have lost first a significant share of their customer base to Dish TV operators and more recently to OTT platforms, particularly after the launch of JIO leading to fall in internet data rates.

The Association claims that according to information available with them, most of the OOT and IPTV operators have neither got permission from Indian Government to provide services in India nor are they registered as Distribution Platform Operators (DPO) by the I&B Ministry.  In this connection ALCOAI has citied an old notice of the Ministry of I&B dated 23.12.2015 restricting the broadcasters from giving access to their signals to any non-registered distribution platform operators. The cable operators have also claimed that pornographic content and non-permitted channels are being distributed without any regulatory control through the OTT as well as IPTV services.

These allegations by the cable operators are serious if they are found to be correct. Our media lawmakers need to investigate into the complaints ASAP and take corrective measures.  However, it is difficult to believe that any prominent OTT/ IPTV player would start their services without completing the required legal formalities for operating in India. The consequence of such actions would be leading to legal actions against them with financial implications.

Earlier this year, we learnt from media reports that TRAI was planning to regulate online video streaming platforms by inviting consultants’ views on the same. The sooner TRAI introduces such regulations would be better for all concerned. The technological changes which are sweeping over the global markets cannot be stopped or stalled by introducing media regulations. So, TRAI needs to ensure a fair playing ground for all the different types of operators involved in the distribution of the content of the broadcasting organisations as well as independent video content competing with the content of TV channels. TV will be enjoying the highest share of the advertising expenditure pie for quite a few years to come. It will be unfair for the cable operators, who pioneered the distribution of satellite TV channels in India,  if they get marginalised in the process of TV distribution through legal rigmaroles.

 

Indrani Sen is a veteran mediaperson and educator. The views here are personal

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