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Broadcasters urge for regulations that benefit consumers

MUMBAI: The government has no place pushing media organisations into regulations that are sporadic, do not address the issues that are long term, and are taken with a view that are not beneficial for the consumers, broadcasters opined.

Deliberating on ‘De-bottlenecking the Regulatory Hurdles’ at the 15th edition of FICCI Frames, the broadcasters came up with three pointers— revisiting the licensing system, providing addressability following the completion of digitisation and taking a hard view on carriage fee.

The panellists included MIB secretary Bimal Julka, Star India CEO Uday Shankar, Viacom18 CEO Sudhanshu Vats, Discovery Networks SVP & GM South Asia Rahul Johri, and FCC commissioner Ajit Pai. The session was moderated by NDTV group CEO Vikram Chandra.

Julka set the tone by emphasising the government’s resolve to formulate uniform, consistent and inclusive regulation. He said that the government is facilitating the process of digitisation and that if industry wants, the government can intervene. Talking about the third phase of digitisation, he agreed that there are multiple issues but said that the stakeholders should play a participatory role in the process of regulating the industry.

Taking the baton, Shankar, who is also chairman of the FICCI Media and Entertainment Committee, said that the most important thing is to determine the need for regulation before the government decides to come up with one. “The government should first determine how it will benefit the consumer. It [regulation] should be able to improve the quality of the content,” he said.

Referring to digitisation, he said that when the process started, everyone thought it would not only increase the bandwidth in a significant way but will also increase transparency in the value chain. “Has it happened? MSOs have seeded boxes but their economics hasn’t improved. The carriage has gone down only marginally. It’s a selective success of the regulation,” Shankar lamented.

He added that digitisation should have brought transparency and discipline into the overall system.

Agreeing that addressability is yet to come, Vats said, “Addressability is the key point of digitisation. Unless we achieve that, digitisation is not complete.”

When Chandra asked for his suggestions, Vats added that government must relook at the licensing system. “A single-window system to procure licences and a stipulated timeframe must be in place to avoid delays in granting licences,” Vats said.

Further, he added that a hard relook at the whole carriage should be taken, which the broadcasters had agreed upon.

Meanwhile, Discovery’s Johri, who is also looking at the new content aggregators’ regulation, said that it is not in the interest of the consumer. Citing the example of a newspaper, he said that aggregation is like a newspaper where a reader will get all the sections. If he decided to go by sections, he would have to spend more. “The same is the case with aggregation. For instance, our channel Discovery Science is very much appreciated. But it can’t sustain on its own. It needs to be supported by a bigger channel,” he said.

Though Johri was hopeful that digitisation will pave way for deciding appropriate regulation, he also maintained, “The one-size-fits-all approach cannot be adopted while regulating as the stakeholders have varied profiles.”

Pai gave the example of the US, where it allows the market forces to determine and FCC does not come out with many regulations for the industry. “It is essential to create a regulatory environment keeping in view the needs of the market. The government should build a transparent regulatory system.”

Agreeing that some amount of regulation is important, Shankar added that it should not be sporadic. “People in government and outside should recognise that a consumer wants good quality content. And if any regulation is contradicting that, then there is a problem,” he said.