Broadcasters fail to get a hearing on TRAI tariff order today

Broadcasters face a confusing choice tomorrow

Major television channel broadcasters had a disappointing Friday as their application against TRAI’s move to impose the new tariff order could not be heard due to paucity of time, marking the second day the application has been listed and went unheard.

Big broadcasters had approached the Bombay High Court earlier this week against TRAI’s Aug 8 deadline for the implementation the new tariff order (NTO) 2.0.

The matter was first listed on Wednesday for hearing on Thursday. However, it was pushed to today (Friday) as the bench had to cancel all hearings on Thursday.

The matter is now listed for Monday, Aug 10.

Today was, in a way, the last opportunity for the broadcasters to get a stay on TRAI’s directive — which gives them only time till the end of day tomorrow (Saturday) to come out with new plans and prices.

This means that the broadcasters run the risk of inviting punitive action from TRAI if they fail to announce new tariff plans and packs as directed by the end of the day tomorrow.

On the other hand, if these big broadcasters do upload the new plans and reference interconnect offer tomorrow (Saturday), there is a chance that some cable or DTH operator may download a copy, fill it and send it to them.

According to the law as it stands, any operator can download the reference interconnect offer — the document that lays down the channel prices, packs and other conditions — from the broadcaster’s website, fill and submit it to demand a connection. Earlier, the process involved considerable mutual negotiation.

However, chances of that happening are very slim.

There is a stronger possibility that the broadcasters will not publish new channel and pack prices by the deadline, and will instead hope that they will get some relief from the court on Monday.

So far, out of the dozens of broadcasters, only three or four have complied with TRAI’s directive to publish new prices and packages that are in compliance with the rules issued on Jan 1, 2020.

On new year’s day, TRAI had come out with new rules that forbade any operator from including any channel priced above Rs 12 in any channel pack. This was done to prod the broadcasters into cutting the prices of their popular channels from Rs 19 to Rs 12.

TRAI issued the directive after being inundated by complaints from consumers and channel distributors (cable/DTH operators) about the “high pricing” of popular channels.

According to NTO1.0, channels could still be included in packages if they were priced at or below Rs 19 per month (Rs 22.40 including taxes).

Since none of the channels wanted to miss the chance to monetize their popular channels fully, nearly all the popular channels in India ended up getting priced at Rs 22.40 including tax.

This made it practically impossible for consumers to pick and choose their channels, and they continued to be forced to buy fairly largish channel packs containing anywhere from 4 to 40 channels each.

This ended up defeating the two key purposes behind introducing the new tariff order in 2017 — enable consumers to pick and choose which channels they wanted to buy without being forced into packages, and encourage competition in the market by allowing cable/DTH operators to carry more and more channels from a variety of broadcasters, including smaller players and new entrants.

For now, however, it looks like TRAI has its hands full, trying to enforce the rules issued on Jan 1.