Broadcasters may move court against Trai ruling on pay channels

Mumbai: TV broadcasters are planning to mount a legal challenge to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India‘s (Trai) directive on making pay channels that are available on DD Free Dish free to other distributors, sources privy to the development said.

The broadcasters are likely to move court against the Trai notification through industry bodies like Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation and News Broadcasters and Digital Association, they added.

Trai had on Monday directed that a TV channel permitted by the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB), which is available for free on DD Free Dish platform, cannot be declared a pay channel for addressable distribution platforms.

A senior TV broadcast executive said the broadcasters have a strong case against Trai since the regulator doesn’t have jurisdiction over DD Free Dish, which is a free direct-to-home (DTH) platform owned by Prasar Bharati.

Broadcasters may Move Court Against Trai Ruling on Pay ChannelsET Bureau

“Broadcasters don’t charge subscription fees from DD Free Dish since it doesn’t charge any subscription fee from customers, whereas pay DTH and cable platforms charge customers for all the pay channels that they offer,” the executive said, adding that the pay distribution platforms charge network capacity fees from customers whereas DD Free Dish doesn’t.

However, a cable TV executive said Trai’s direction is to broadcasters and not to DD Free Dish; therefore, the regulator is well within its right to issue this directive. “A channel should be paid or FTA (free-to-air) uniformly across all platforms, including DD Free Dish,” he said.

Currently, over 15 pay channels across news and entertainment genres are present on DD Free Dish. However, the entertainment channels have a nominal price as they air old content.

A distribution executive said some of these entertainment channels have been kept paid since Trai regulations prohibit bundling of free and paid channels. Both cable and DTH platforms have been lobbying with MIB and Trai to bring DD Free Dish under the regulatory framework to ensure a level playing field. Trai has also recommended to MIB that DD Free Dish be upgraded to an encrypted platform in a phased manner. Currently, the majority of DD Free Dish customers use MPEG-2 set top boxes, which are unencrypted.

A few years ago, Prasar Bharati started offering encrypted MPEG-4 set top boxes through authorised vendors but these set-top boxes didn’t see much uptake.

Pay-TV platforms, which collectively service over 100 million homes, have been losing customers that are at the lower end of the spectrum to DD Free Dish, which offers over 100 TV channels.

As per industry estimates, DD Free Dish reaches 40-50 million homes and is already the single largest TV distribution platform in the country. Its user base mostly resides in rural areas of northern and eastern Indian states.


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