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Media regulation needs overhaul amid emergence of new technologies
MUMBAI: Rather than restricting a licence to just one service, the regulator should devise a process whereby the existing licence can be expanded every two to three years to include new services so that the licence does not become irrelevant with the emergence of a new technology, Dish TV president technology Amitabh Kumar said at a conference on media law.
Citing the example of pager which became irrelevant with the advent of mobile phones, he said that the licences that were issued for providing pager services also became irrelevant.
“Rather than giving licence for providing just one service, the scope of the licence should be increased every two to three years. There shouldn’t be any entry fee; rather, the fee should be based on aggregate revenue. We must relook at the regulatory regime,” Kumar stated.
He noted that the current regulations for the media and entertainment sector are backward looking and are not in tune with the changing landscape wherein newer platforms and technologies are emerging.
He also said that uplink licences for television channels will become irrelevant with content moving to cloud technology. He reckoned that linear television will be replaced with on-demand content consumption by 2020.
The existing distribution platforms might also become irrelevant as broadcasters and content creators might look to create their own platforms as in the US.
Viacom18 Media Group General Counsel Sujeet Jain said that the consumption of content has changed dramatically over the years. The regulator, he said, has no role in content as self-regulation is working well.
Rather than suspending channels, the government must have penalty provision under BCCC, the self-regulation body set up by the broadcasters. “The government should completely leave content alone as self-regulation is a proven mechanism,” Jain stated.
Star India president and general counsel (legal) of regulatory affairs Deepak Jacob said that the existing regulatory structure is coming in the way of growth. The investment in the quality of content is not proportional to the revenue that broadcasters earn.
He pointed out that ARPU for cable TV has remained stagnant at Rs 150–200 for many years despite the fact that investment in content has grown manifold with the cost of producing an episode going up almost 20 times. Since the ARPU is low, the broadcasters are not able to realise their fair share of revenue, which is also limiting their ability to invest in quality content. Referring to his personal experience, Jacob said that he pays Rs 600 a month for subscribing to three newspapers.
“So consumers are paying more for newspapers which provide a-day-old news, while for cable TV, which includes movies, music, infotainment and what not, they are paying Rs 150–200,” Jacob averred.
He also rued the fact that the ‘must provide’ clause has often been misused by distribution platforms and is a disincentive for the broadcasters to create platform-centric content.
Offering his perspective on on-demand content, Kumar said that currently subscribers are forced to take all the sports channels if they want to watch any sporting event. He said that in the US, subscribers have the choice to pay for sporting that they want to watch. He further stated that the type of content will not change; however, there will be evolution in the format of content.
Singh & Singh Law Firm partner Tejveer Bhatia noted that the media sector was regulated because it was unorganised. He said that the regulator should maintain forbearance on tariff and leave it to the market forces. He, however, maintained that content must be provided to all platforms on non-discriminatory basis.
Jacob drew attention to the fact that tariff order and interconnection were meant for the telecom sector and not for the broadcast sector. He contended that content creators should be governed by Copyright Act which also has fair access provision in it.
Jain said that the regulator should focus on the converged ecosystem and ease of access. He added that ministries like IT, telecom and I&B need to merge for better co-ordination.