The telecom regulator released a consultation paper regarding services offered by distribution platform owners (DPOs), expressing a range of concerns raised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through a letter it wrote in July. Platform services (PS) channels are those that are provided by local cable operators or direct-to-home (DTH) operators exclusively to their subscribers such as Tata Sky Active or Tata Sky World Screen. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has asked for comments on revision of the registration fee for PS channels. At present, broadcasters pay a processing fee of Rs 10,000 for registration of a channel in addition to a fee of Rs 5 lakh per annum for the licence, and another Rs 5 lakh per year in the form of permission fee (to downlink channels). For channels not transmitted (uplinked) from India, a broadcaster is supposed to pay Rs 10 lakh per annum. For PS channels, on the other hand, DPOs are required to pay a one-time registration fee of Rs 1,000. Trai has, in its paper, asked if this fee should be increased to Rs 1 lakh since the DTH landscape has changed significantly since the registration fee structure was laid down in 2014. Other issues raised by the Trai range from placement of such channels on the electronic programming guide to the maximum number of channels a DPO should be allowed to carry. The paper also asks if the onus of maintaining exclusivity should fall on DPOs. This means the cable or DTH operator has to ensure the content being provided by them is not shared with other DPOs. Many DPOs, especially DTH service providers, carry a number of PS channels, with content varying from infomercials to interactive services. While a lot of the content may be curated for a DTH operator, many have movies-on-demand or pay-per-view services, and some titles do overlap from one DPO to another.
Trai’s paper argues that if the same PS content were to be shared, it would be like any other regular TV channel. According to regulations, the DPOs are not allowed to include foreign TV channels not registered in India.Also, according to the data provided to Trai, all four DTH providers — Tata Sky, Dish TV, Aritel DTH, and Sun Direct — are operating at full capacity, with no bandwidth to spare for new channels. However, players like Dish TV and Tata Sky have 40 and 41 PS channels, respectively. The lack of a cap on the number of PS channels could lead to hindrance in ‘must carry’ stipulation that applies to all DPOs. According to regulations, a distribution platform must carry a channel within 60 days of a receiving a written request from the broadcaster, or within 30 days of signing the agreement. However, at present, the ‘must carry’ rule does not apply if DPOs do not have spare capacity to carry more channels. “Almost all DTH operators have declared no spare capacity, whereas all have PS channels. Some have as many as 42, 25, and 20 such channels. Clearly, there is a need for regulating them,” Trai said in the paper. The Trai has called for comments from stakeholders by September 27.