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Phase III: Three broadcasters make a beginning by inking deals with MSOs

MUMBAI: Thanks to the initiatives by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), there appears to be some movement with regard to the signing of interconnect agreements for digital addressable system (DAS) Phase III areas between broadcasters and multi-system operators (MSOs). However, a lot of distance remains to be covered as the MSOs and broadcasters are still wrangling over content pricing.

Three broadcasters, namely Star India, Multi Screen Media (MSM) and TV18, informed TRAI that they had so far received 55 requests from MSOs and that they had signed commercial deals with two such MSOs. Deals with 11 MSOs were in advance stage of negotiations.

During the ninth Task Force meeting on the implementation of DAS in Phase III and IV areas, TRAI representative GS Kesarwani mentioned that a review meeting on the progress of the signing of Phase III interconnect agreements was held on 6 July involving broadcasters and MSOs.

He informed the Task Force that as per the decision taken in this meeting, MSOs who had not received any response to their requests from broadcasters, should email TRAI by 10 July. He added that the progress on the signing of interconnect agreements would be reviewed again on 14 July.

With respect to headend-in-the-sky (HITS) services, he stated that they too should apprise TRAI if they received no response from broadcasters for interconnect agreements. He informed that as per the broadcasters, some MSOs were intending to wait until September 2015 before sending requests to broadcasters for agreements in Phase III areas.

MIB additional secretary and Task Force chairperson JS Mathur asked the TRAI representative to get the details of these MSOs from the broadcasters. Apprehending that there might be some gap/MSO-deficient areas, Mathur asked the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) representative to get details of these areas from the broadcasters and intimate the same to the ministry.

Representative of the IBF mentioned that broadcasters had entered into agreements with five regional MSOs. He informed that broadcasters have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court on the judgement of the TDSAT on the tariff orders issued by TRAI, which was challenged by MSOs.

Speaking on behalf of national MSOs, IndusInd Media & Communications Ltd (IMCL) representative mentioned that there had been a positive movement towards the singing of interconnect agreements. He also added that broadcasters were asking for seeding plans and other data from MSOs, which is not possible for them to honour at this stage. He further mentioned that channel pricing in Phase III areas was the main hurdle in the signing of interconnect agreements. Some broadcasters had proposed agreements on analogue rates until December 2015 and others on RIO (reference interconnect offer) rates, he added.

GTPL representative Shaji Matthews said that broadcasters were asking for too many details from MSOs. There were also legal issues regarding tariff orders, which had been contested in court. TRAI had allowed different pricing for different markets, he said.

Hathway Cable & Datacom representative TS Panesar mentioned that they too were in negotiations with broadcasters but no agreements had so far been closed.

DEN Networks representative Hema Suri stated that only one broadcaster responded to their requests for interconnect agreements.

Siti Cable Networks representative Anil Malhotra mentioned that as per an analysis of urban areas, it might not be feasible for any operator to carry out digitisation in urban areas having only a few hundred TV households. He stated that broadcasters were insisting on analogue agreements.

Representative of the HITS operator said that they too had not received any response to their requests for interconnect agreements from broadcasters.

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