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Broadcasters say no to TRAI allowing news and sports on cable channels run by MSOs

MUMBAI: Broadcasters do not want the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to allow news and sports on local cable channels or platform services run by the multi-system operators (MSOs).

They have raised concerns to the TRAI regarding these channels which comprise various services. These include linear channels in genres such as movies, music, local news and events, local sports and cultural events, and coverage of local political rallies and speeches.

Incidentally, certain MSOs in Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, Orissa, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have 20–30 channels that form a part of their PS. Among the PS for cable TV, half of the channels have significant portions of local news and current events, political discussions and debates.

All the broadcasters are opposed to news and current affairs, political events as well as live sporting events on these channels. But when it comes to movie and other shows, some believe that with adequate permission from the IPR holder, such retransmission should be allowed.

Star India feels that if distribution platforms are now allowed to scope-creep into content, it would only serve to increase the monopoly power of the distribution platforms and lead to potential abuse of dominance.

“We believe that at a threshold level DPOs ought not to be allowed to transmit any programmes through its platforms. If the DPO intends to transmit any of its own content through its platform in a linear form, it should abide by the principles and regulatory construct stipulated in the recommendations on issues related to new DTH licences. Accordingly, a stipulated transition time should be allowed to all existing DPOs to hive-off such linear services into separate and independent entities treating such entities as broadcasters, which are then subject to the general policy of must provide and non-discriminatory offering of channels; we submit that this is in keeping with the recent recommendations as stated and also in line with one of the approaches suggested by TRAI in the earlier Consultation Paper dated 6 March 2009,” Star India submitted.

Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), however, is of the view that movie channels, channels showing the movies on demand, video on demand, pay per view, advertisement slots channels are to be treated as broadcasting channels requiring permission under the downlinking/uplinking guidelines and should also be covered under the realm of ‘must provide’ clause, whereas the provision of other services like active services, gaming, educational content and information-based content should be treated as value added/platform services.

ZEEL added that the responsibility for complying with the Programming and Advertisement Codes should be upon the DTH operators/MSOs except where the content has been certified by competent authority.

While agreeing with TRAI on not allowing news and current affairs and political events, ZEEL believes that for serials and reality shows, distribution platform operator (DPO) should be able to retransmit any programmes including events, movies or reality shows for which it has acquired rights from the IPR holder.

Meanwhile, ZEEL said that DPO should be able to retransmit sports and live event content for which it has acquired rights from the IPR holder. “However these rights must not be exclusive.” Also, they should not be permitted to transmit any live national or international sports events.

The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) stated that it is critical to maintain the distinguishable difference between broadcasting and distribution to ensure each of these components plays its role in the growing television broadcasting space.

Accordingly, DPOs should not be allowed to air any content to its subscribers that can compete with linear broadcasting programming, the IBF contended.

“While we strongly believe that DPOs should accordingly be restricted severely to offer select non-linear broadcasting services, we also believe that if a DPO offers even non-linear as a service, that DPO should be subjected to the same set of policies, regulations and laws that broadcasters have to comply with,” IBF said.

The IBF also reiterated that non-linear, on-demand services can be provided by DPOs on a non-exclusive basis as long as the content does not compete with linear television programming or channels.

News Broadcasters Association (NBA), while agreeing to the TRAI’s proposal on the aspects related to programmes to be permitted on platform services channels, maintained that an important caveat is that PS must be subject to the entire regulatory regime as broadcasters are subject to under the Cable TV Act and Cable TV Rules in relation particularly to the Programming and Advertising Codes.

Regarding the PS, Times Television Network, which runs Times Now, ET Now, Movies Now, Romedy Now and Zoom, has concerns with regard to the issues of (i) compliance of intellectual property rights of the content owners and related laws; and (ii) broadcasting of news and current affairs.

“Most MSOs to save the licence costs and owing to their inability to create quality content, habitually indulge in piracy and copyright violations. Such MSOs pick up content for the re-transmission on cable PS, either from the internet or illegal grey market. Such content may not be fit for public viewing as it is unedited and without the requisite CBFC certification. The adverse implications for such illegal practice by cable operators are multifold,” TTN said.

On the issue of broadcasting news and current affairs, the company said that as fair and impartial observers, news reporting must be free from apparent conflict of interest. “Thus, broadcasting of local news and current affairs by cable operators at their level is a major concern.”

The company is of the view that any news and/or current affairs programmes and coverage of political events of any nature should not be allowed on PS. Besides, other programmes should not be allowed if due rights/ permissions have not been secured.

“Rest of all programming can be allowed for PS. We would also like to add that programming code and advertisement code should be strictly implemented on the PS for sensible viewing for all ages, restriction on banned advertisements, safeguard intellectual property and copyright of the rightful owners/ licensors and airing of only certified and legal content,” it opined.

Sports broadcaster Neo Sports said that DPOs should be able to re-transmit programmes including serials, sports, gaming, reality shows, movies, etc. for which it has acquired rights from the IPR holder. However, such IPR cannot be exclusive to the PS of any specific DPO. Further, the DPO cannot own the IPR of any content on its own at any given time for showing on their PS since it will breach his role as neutral distributor.

“The sole exception is that the DPO can make the content wherein it relates to promotion of their platform services for the benefit of their subscribers,” the sportscaster said.

It is in consonance with TRAI’s recommendation to allow PS to provide information pertaining to sporting events excluding live coverage. The sportscaster also recommended that DPOs should not be permitted to transmit live sporting events of local nature unless they have procured third-party broadcasting rights and permissions from the IPR holder to transmit the same.

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