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TRAI chairman urges broadcast stakeholders to collaborate on infrastructure sharing and STBs

MUMBAI: Taking lessons from the evolution of the telecom industry, TRAI chairman RS Sharma has urged stakeholders in broadcasting to actively collaborate on issues like infrastructure sharing and set-top boxes.

While not making infrastructure sharing mandatory, TRAI may tweak the existing licensing system to support those who go in for this model.

“Today 5–6 telcos are willing to share one mobile tower, showing how sharing and competition can go hand in hand. This can materialise in the broadcasting space as well. While TRAI has no plans to make infrastructure sharing mandatory, it may tweak the existing licensing system to provide support to the stakeholders who are interested in the idea,” Sharma said.

Sharma, who was speaking at Casbaa’s annual India Forum 2016, acknowledged the challenges and opportunities as the country moves into the fourth phase of digital addressable system (DAS). He said, “TRAI is not here to promote legacy systems in cable TV where a structural monopoly exists. With the objective of providing the right of choice to the consumers, we will allow the march of technology. At the same time, for healthy growth of the sector, it is crucial to strike the right balance between all the stakeholders through a constructive dialogue.”

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) believes there is need for a broadcasting policy. It is willing to have dialogues with all stakeholders regarding this.

As part of a special address, MIB special secretary Jitendra Shankar Mathur talked about the recent developments in the media and broadcasting industry. “At the ministry, the pace of permissions have scaled up. In the first three phases of digitisation, we covered 70 million households. We also realise the need for a broadcasting policy and are willing to have more related conversations with all stakeholders,” he said.

The issue of interoperability of set-top boxes (STBs) was discussed at length. TRAI principal advisor, broadcast & cable SK Gupta stressed the importance of pushing the use of a common STB by different operators. He pointed out that the cost of procuring and maintaining STBs weighs heavily on the balance sheets of multi-system operators (MSOs), local cable operators (LCOs) and digital TV companies. He said that interconnected agreements between LCOs and MSOs could give two-way cable networks to the end users.

Cable TV digitisation would give a boost to broadband. MIB joint secretary (broadcasting) R Jaya said, “Phase IV of cable TV digitisation is the most prominent route to broadband connectivity. It is high time for the industry to understand the value of interconnection agreements.”

The session on over-the-top (OTT) services highlighted the importance of new platforms in providing on-demand content. Acknowledging the growth of OTT services, Srivastava said that TRAI would be floating consultation papers to assess the size of the industry and come up with related policies, if needed. Content IP and marketing were the two challenges faced by new entrants in this space.

The panel also concurred that OTT market is in an experimental phase where players are toying with different revenue models to figure what will click with the consumers eventually.

The session on digital advertising covered the lack of matrix to assess the reach of the medium. The panel talked about the rise of video and the ways in which traditional advertisers are leveraging it. Prior to this session, Madison World CMD Sam Balsara made a presentation on ‘Advertising trends in Digital and uncertain economic times’.

After the evening tea session, a mix of stakeholders discussed the state of regulation in the broadcasting space. MIB director B&C, Neeti Sarkar said that the ministry has minimal intervention on the content side of the broadcasting industry. “We have made our procedures smoother by allowing single-window clearance at the time of launching a new channel. Having said that, there has always been room for dialogue with all stakeholders,” she said.

TRAI advisor Sunil Kumar Singhal said that it was time to bring consumers at the centre stage and then create regulations. “There is a trust deficit among stakeholders. In the last few years, significant investments have been made in the digitisation drive. Now it is time for us to monetise these capabilities.”

Casbaa’s India Forum 2016 examined the ripple effect of the country’s digitisation initiative. The theme of the daylong event, which brought together all the stakeholders including MSOs, LCOs, DTH players, satellite technology providers and regulators, was ‘Digital India: The Four Phases of Cable Enlightenment’.

Casbaa CEO Christopher Slaughter set the tone by establishing the relation between the digitisation of the cable TV system in India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign.

Throughout the day, different panel discussions saw participation of industry representatives including TRAI principal advisor, NSL, UK Srivastava, Disney India Media Networks VP, head of revenue Nikhil Gandhi, Eutelsat UK MD MD Nicholas Daly, Hathway MD and CEO Jagdish Kumar, Hinduja Group CEO media Anthony D’Silva, SES SVP Commercial, Asia-Pacific and Middle East Deepak Mathur, and DittoTV business head Archana Anand.

One of the key highlights of the event was the launch of ‘The Capacity Crunch Continues’, a paper developed by PWC on the present and future of satellite technology. This was followed by a panel discussion titled ‘Satellite Industry in India: Continued challenges’. The session covered issues like general procedural delays, taxation issues and the wait for a new sitcom policy in India.

One of the observations made by panel members was on satellite’s contribution to the Digital India campaign in case the government decides to consider it. As of now, Digital India is being executed with the use of fibre optics, which is time consuming. On the other hand, satellite deployment can be executed in a few days connecting thousands of panchayats within the country.