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FTA channels get a breather from TDSAT in Freedish slot renewal matter

MUMBAI: In a major relief to free to air (FTA) channels, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) has directed Prasar Bharati to carry channels, whose contract has expired or is about to expire, on its free direct to home (DTH) platform Freedish on pro-rata basis till such time it comes up with a new policy decision.

The tribunal further stated that Prasar Bharati can charge the broadcasters either on the basis of the highest bid or reserve price in the previous auction, whichever is higher.

It also clarified that the highest bid amount would mean the highest bid in that category in the preceding year.

The tribunal made it clear that the above directions do not confer any right or equity in favour of the TV channels and the interim measures will be applicable till the central government comes out with a policy.

Channels that are available on pro-rata basis have to pay the subscription fee on a monthly basis.

The matter has been posted under the head “for directions” on 14 December.

The tribunal was hearing appeals from at least five broadcasters whose contracts have expired. These include Cinema 24×7, which was the first to move TDSAT over Prasar Bharati’s decision to dis-continue e-auction of slots on Freedish.

The other petitioners against the pubcaster’s decision are News Nation Network, Enterr10 Television, Independent News Service, and B4U Broadband India. According to a source, ABP News Network has also made an intervention in the matter.

Cinema 24×7 had argued that Prasar Bharati’s decision was arbitrary and discriminatory in nature as it didn’t have interim have any arrangement for channels whose contracts have expired.

The TV channels had pointed out past precedences wherein channels were allotted continuity on the platform on the basis of pro-rata monthly payment.

The list of channels whose annual contract has expired includes Wow Cinema, Vaa Movies, and RT Movies. Other channels whose contract is coming to an end by October-end include Sanskaar, 9XM, B4U Movies, Dabangg, Enterr10, Cinema TV, Mastii, Sadhna National, ABP News, India TV, Time TV, Dangal, Aastha, Aastha Bhajan, Maha Movie, and Maha Cartoon TV.

The tribunal’s order followed an order issued by Doordarshan stating that it has accepted the request of Cinema 24X7 and all other channels who have submitted similar representations for an interim arrangement on the terms and conditions set out hereinabove, subject to it conveying its unreserved consent to the same.

The pubcaster further stated that the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) is considering a comprehensive policy on DD and is likely to take nearly two months to get finalised.

The tribunal noted that the DD order is silent and does not deny orders passed earlier on pro-rata basis on the issue of precedence.

In the order, DD noted that as an interim measure follow it can a model on the pattern of FM auction policy of the Government for two months or till the central government policy is made, whichever is earlier for the channels which are going to be off the air.

These channels, on completion of their contract period, may be offered continuity of operation at the highest bid amount for any of the channels auctioned in the past, together with revenue sharing at the rate of 50% of the gross profit or 4% of the gross revenue or 2.5% of upfront highest bid amount whichever is higher.

“This system, as an interim arrangement, should be operated on first come first served basis. If the terms and conditions of the short duration extension are acceptable to the existing contract holder,” the pubcaster said in its order.

In the order, the pubcaster pointed out that the MIB auctions FM channels and on an average gets nearly Rs 7 crore upfront and annually 4% of gross revenue of the channel or 2.5% or the reserve fee whichever is higher. In some cases, the earnings of these FM channels could be of the order of 75-80 crore per annum.

Thus, the annual revenue accruing to the government from nearly 320 FM channels is to the tune of Rs. 760 crore.

At a meeting held in the Cabinet Secretariat on 25 August with MIB on the Freedish issue, the government had decided that the vacant channels may be utilised for specialised channels of DD in specific areas in collaboration with concerned ministries/departments.

The Ministry of Science & Technology has already come forward to help DD establish a dedicated science channel.