Thursday, 21 February 2008

A-la-Carte Rates for Non CAS Areas

On 18 January 2008, TRAI placed the filings by the broadcasters regarding a-al-carte rates and bouquet rates of their pay channels in non-CAS areas on its website. 
This is a great achievement in the history of Cable TV as broadcasters have been avoiding this since 2003 when CAS Act was introduced. However still this is only a tentative list which has yet to get the approval of the government. 

Earlier, TRAI had issued the Telecommunication (Broadcasting and Cable) Services (Second) Tariff (Eighth Amendment) Order, 2007 on 4th October, 2007. This Amendment Order has already come into effect from 1st December, 2007. As per this amendment order, Broadcasters are required to provide all their channels on a-la-carte basis also in a non-discriminatory manner and declare the a-la-carte rates to the multi system operators (MSOs)/cable operators for such channels in non-CAS areas. Bouquets of channels can also be offered by the broadcasters. 
The broadcasters had challenged the implementation of this tariff order of 4th October 2007 in TDSAT. However, on 15th January 2008, TDSAT refused to grant stay on the appeal. TDSAT, which was hearing motions filed by Set Discovery, Star India and Zee Turner, while overruling their objections, stated that the regulation is perfectly in the public interest.
It also refused to entertain a demand that MSOs (multi-system operator) must provide names and addresses of their subscribers. Further arguments in the case have been listed for 11 March 2008.
The broadcasters had earlier demanded that MSOs give the names and addresses of all LCOs and even that of every subscriber, as a condition for receiving signals at the à la carte rates.
The counsels for the content aggregators then requested the tribunal to make their terms and conditions for a la carte channels as a part of the TDSAT order, but that too was refused, on the same ground of violation of the October 4 regulation. That regulation requires the MSO / LCOs to make a monthly statement of the subscriber base only, not the names and addresses of the subscribers.
TDSAT chairperson, Arun Kumar heard the appellants' counsel argue that the Order would ultimately not benefit the subscribers and ruled that the tariff Order was in public interest and the tribunal would not stay any regulation that is of that nature.
The tribunal asked the parties to begin their pleadings from 11 March. One aspect of the case that is also coming up is that on the issue of subscriber base, one of the conditions that Zee has placed while making the offer is that the Subscriber Line Reports have to be audited by an independent agency to be appointed by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation.
However, while IBF says that broadcasters are legally allowed to ask it to conduct surveys on SLRs, the legal experts hold that this would grant the regulatory authority of TRAI to IBF which can not be accepted by any regulatory body.
The first impact of this order was that many broadcasters including the major ones have filed the information with TRAI indicating the a-al-carte rates and bouquet rates of their channels. “In order to ensure that the MSOs and cable operators get the content in a non-discriminatory manner, it is necessary for them to know the rates declared by the broadcaster,” says a release from TRAI. Accordingly, the scanned copies of these filings (excluding the confidential portions) made by the broadcasters have been placed on the web-site for information of the stakeholders. 
TRAI however cautions that publication of these filings on TRAI”s website should not be construed as approval of such filings by TRAI. It has further clarified that these rates are only meant to provide a basis for appropriate interconnection agreements between broadcasters on one hand and MSOs/cable operators on the other. These rates should not be taken as rates applicable at the consumer's end, which is technically not feasible due to absence of addressability in non-CAS areas.
The rates as given by the broadcasters are placed on the opposite page. Once these rates get the approval of TRAI, MSOs/Cable Operators in the Non-CAS areas will get a major relief. Not only this, the subscribers in Non-CAS areas will have to pay much less as cable operators will pay less for the pay channels. MSOs/Cable Operators will be able to demand a-la-carte channels depending on the demand of their subscribers. Also, if the MSOs/Cable Operators in Non-CAS areas install digital head-ends and CAS, they can pay for the pay channels according to the rates prevailing in CAS notified areas.


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