New Delhi: TRAI is studying the issue of broadcasters supplying some of their channels free of charge to DD Free Dish, while charging money for the same channels from subscribers of private DTH and Cable Operators.
Several broadcasters like Star and Zee had declared their free channels as ‘pay channels’ ahead of the implementation of the new tariff rules from 29th December. They had done so because the new rules stipulate that they cannot create a channel pack that contains both free and paid channels.
Broadcasters did not want to create two separate packs for free and paid channels as they feared that consumers may simply opt for the free channels, leaving their pay channels in the lurch. As a way around this, they declared their existing free channels as pay channels — albeit with nominal prices. However, TRAI is not willing to let the broadcasters get away with the move.
“As per the regulations, a broadcaster has to declare its nature of channels as either pay channel or Free to Air for addressable system. Therefore, nature of channel should be same on all addressable platforms. TRAI is seized of the matter and is in correspondence with those concerned in this regards,” it said today.
The topic is a sensitive one, as DD Free Dish is the country’s largest television distribution platform with an estimated reach over 30 million households, mostly in the Hindi-speaking belt.
So far, it was assumed that the new tariff regime does not impact the free operator as it was not yet an ‘addressable’ system. In other words, DD Free Dish transmits its signals without any encryption and any person can point a dish at the satellite and watch the channels without any authorization or permission from PrasarBharati or any of the channel broadcasters — a key reason for its success.
TRAI’s clarification seems to suggest that it does not believe that PrasarBharati’s DTH service is a non-addressable system, but an addressable one. DD Free Dish is in fact in the process of rolling out encryptionon its service.
The only way for channels to get around the problem would be to either revert their channels back to ‘free’, or to pull their channels from DD Free Dish — something that will have an immediate impact on the advertising revenue generated by these channels.