TRAI recommends capping PS channels on DTH at 3% of total channel carrying capacity

MUMBAI: In a major setback for the direct to home (DTH) operators, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended to the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) to cap the number of platform services (PS) by the DTH platforms.

The regulator has recommended that the total number of permitted PS for a DTH operator shall be capped to 3% of the total channel carrying capacity of the DTH operator platform and subject to a maximum of 15 platform services channels.

PS channels being offered by the DTH operators generally include music, movies, devotional, entertainment, teleshopping, kids programs, serials, documentaries, infotainment, market news, educational, and interactive games.

The TRAI has today released its recommendations on ‘Platform Services offered by DTH Operators’. The regulator had received a reference from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) seeking recommendations for inclusion of few issues regarding platform services with reference to DTH guidelines.

The authority is of the view that owing to that fact that DTH operators have a limited channel carrying capacity and with the availability of a huge number of permitted satellite TV channels (900+) in all regional languages and genres, there is no pressing requirement, as such for a large number of PS channels to the DTH operators.

It further stated that the domain of the DTH operator is different from the domain of the broadcaster. The DTH operators are primarily to carry the content produced by the broadcasters, and not to produce the content on their own.

The regulator also contended that a larger chunk of PS channels also defeats the principles of ‘must carry’ obligation of the DTH operators.

Tata Sky has the maximum of PS channels at 43 followed by Airtel Digital TV (25), Dish TV and d2h at 20 each, and Sun Direct (20), as reported by the DTH operators to the TRAI. The SD channel carrying capacity of DTH operators are as follows: Tata Sky (758), Airtel Digital TV (686), Dish TV (479), d2h (616), and Sun Direct (352).

The regulator has also reiterated that the programme transmitted by the DTH operator as a PS shall be exclusive and the same shall not be permitted to be shared directly or indirectly with any other Distribution Platform Operator (DPO).

Elaborating on this recommendation, the authority stated that the programme transmitted by a DTH operator should be exclusive and should not be shared with other DPOs, which will also ensure that domain of PS channels remains distinct from that of registered channels.

It further added that the PS channels should act as a unique selling point (USP) of the DTH operators, and therefore being termed as platform service of that particular DTH operator and not as a broadcast content to be shared with other DPOs.

The TRAI has, however, given a leeway to the content creators/broadcasters by stating that if they feel that the programme developed by them is not exclusive for a particular DTH operator and the same has to be shared with other DPOs as well, such programme would fall under the category of ground-based broadcasters, and not transmitted as a PS channel of a specific DTH operator.

The regulator has also recommended that programme transmitted by the DTH operator as a platform service shall not directly or indirectly include any registered TV channel or Doordarshan channel or foreign TV channel. The time-shift feed of registered TV channels (such as +1 services) will also not be allowed as a platform service.

It further stated that the DTH operator shall ensure and provide an undertaking to the ministry in the format prescribed by the ministry that the programme transmitted is exclusive to their platform and not shared directly or indirectly with any other DPO.

In case the same programme is found available on the PS of any other DPO, MIB/TRAI may issue a direction to immediately stop the transmission of such programme. MIB also reserves the right for cancellation of registration of such PS of the DTH operator.

The TRAI has also recommended imposing a one-time non-refundable registration fee of Rs 10,000 per PS channel shall be charged from a DTH operator.

It has also been recommended that the platform services channels shall be categorised under the genre ‘Platform Services’ in the Electronic Programmable Guide (EPG) subject to orders/directions/regulations issued by TRAI from time-to-time.

The respective maximum retail price (MRP) of the platform service shall be displayed in the EPG against each platform service subject to orders/ directions/regulations issued by TRAI from time-to-time, the TRAI stated.

In order to distinguish PS from linear channels, the TRAI has recommended a provision for putting a caption as ‘Platform Services’. It added that the government may decide the caption in a size which is visually readable by the consumers.

The TRAI explained that consumers should be able to identify such channels and to make an informed choice regarding the selection of these platform services. Font size or type may be left to the operators as long as it is well received in the market and the font has to be readable, legible and visually pleasing for digital use.

The authority reiterated the definition of PS as recommended in ‘Regulatory Framework for Platform Services’ dated 19th November 2014.

The definition of PS for DTH operators shall be: “Platform services (PS) are programs transmitted by Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs)exclusively to their own subscribers and does not include Doordarshan channels and registered TV channels. PS shall not include foreign TV channels that are not registered in India.”

Registered TV channels or television channels means a channel, which has been granted downlinking permission by the Central Government under the policy guidelines issued or amended by it from time to time and reference to the term “channel” shall be constructed as a reference to “television channel”.

In order to deliberate on various aspects and to seek inputs from the industry stakeholders, TRAI had issued a consultation paper on ‘Platform Services offered by DTH Operators’, on 28th August 2019.

Written comments and counter comments on the consultation paper were invited from the stakeholders by 4th October and 11th October 2019 respectively. Subsequently, an open house discussion was held on 15th October 2019, in Delhi, to seek the further views of the stakeholders on various issues.

Based on the comments of the stakeholders received during the abovementioned consultation process and its own analysis, the authority has finalised its recommendations on ‘Platform Services offered by DTH Operators’.

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