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Javadekar urges DTH ops to drop subscription rates

MUMBAI: For the direct-to-home (DTH) operators, the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Prakash Javadekar’s statement couldn’t have been more horrific. The new minister urged DTH operators to reduce subscription fee as a trade-off with the government for implementing cable TV digitisation and reducing licence fee.

prakash-javdekar-mainIn his first major interaction with the top decision-makers at the CII CEOs Roundtable on Media and Entertainment, Javadekar said that subscribers should also benefit from the implementation of digital addressable system (DAS).

Putting all speculation to rest, the minister asserted that the government was committed to implementing Phases III and IV of DAS, but at the same time it wanted to give a fillip to the indigenous set-top box (STB) manufacturers.

“With digitisation, your subscriber base has increased and your revenue has also grown. Currently, only 4 crore (40 million) STBs have been seeded, which is just 25 per cent of the universe, with 75 per cent still remaining. We want to complete digitisation and we will do it. We never said that we don’t want to do digitisation, but what will our consumers get in return?” said Javadekar, much to the bewilderment of the industry captains.

“I am asking for a trade-off and the trade-off is what you will give my viewers. Will you reduce my subscription? It can’t be one way, so will you reduce subscription? Why should I pay and at the same time watch so many ads? How can both the things happen at the same time? You should offer me what you want to give,” the minister added.

Tata Sky MD & CEO Harit NagpalTata Sky MD and CEO Harit Nagpal said, “Our charges are lowest in the world. We are giving a basic package at Rs 220 only and out of that 33 per cent is taken by the government as tax.”

Dish TV CEO RC VenkatieshWhen contacted, Dish TV CEO RC Venkateish said: “Tax burden is crippling the industry. However, if the government is willing to give us tax rebate, we will definitely pass on the benefit to the consumer.”

In a lighter vein, the minister also asked DTH operators to pay at least 50 per cent of the Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) licence fee that is due. He also promised to look into the issue of reduction of DTH licence fee while emphasising that multiple taxation was the main issue.

Regarding DAS, he categorically stated that the government will take Phases III and IV of digitisation to its logical conclusion, without, however, clarifying if it will be completed by the 31 December deadline.

While flagging the issue of domestic STB manufacturers, he affirmed that the process of digitisation will not be stalled because of that.

“As far as Phases III and IV are concerned, we have not abandoned it. As the STBs come from foreign countries, I have asked the secretary to bring some people who are ready with some plan on rolling out digitisation. Something should be manufactured here. Why should we import everything from China? But we will not delay just because of that,” Javadekar clarified.

He also asked DTH and cable TV operators to sincerely carry Doordarshan channels on their networks.

On the issue of carriage fee, Javadekar said that there are two opinions on the issue and the ministry is seized of the matter.

He also said that there won’t be any further delays in the decision-making process. “There won’t be any further delays; the word ‘delay’ has now been deleted. This government is about communication and consensus. We will create a process in which a decision will be taken in four weeks which was earlier taking four months,” Javadekar declared.

The government, he said, will communicate with all the stakeholders and build consensus before forming policies. He also welcomed the idea of an advisory board to discuss issues concerning the industry.

“The government will not be detrimental but a partner in the progress of this sector. We promise you a stable policy regime and a transparent mechanism and a time-bound action plan,” he assured.

A government, Javadekar said, is representative of the people and this government will only do what is in the interest of the people. He also said that entertainment and easy access to information will be given the same priority as basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter.

Meanwhile, I&B secretary Bimal Julka said that his ministry will be an ‘enabler and facilitator’ and will create single-window clearance with no ‘multiple grills’. He also made a request to the industry to present its budget proposals to the ministry by 23 June to be presented to the finance ministry.

Forty top CEOs of the M&E sector interacted with the minister and gathered confidence that the pending decisions will not be further delayed by the new government. Issues related to broadcast, films, DTH, cable, radio and print were briefed by industry leaders at the CII Roundtable.

CII Media & Entertainment Committee chairman and Viacom18 Group CEO Sudhanshu Vats said that accountability, clarity and foresight from M&E stakeholders will take the sector to new heights.

CII director general Chandrajit Banerjee said that an innovative push from the government in an enabling regulatory infrastructure and policy reforms will create a world-class, knowledge-driven M&E sector in India.