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The tussle continues

As we usher in 2020, there are some major, unresolved issues the broadcasting industry carries forward into the new year.

The digital media is awaiting clarification from the DPIIT on FDI allowed to them. Till August 2019, since the digital media sector was not listed separately, it qualified under 100-percent FDI permitted on the automatic route. However, on August 29, DPIIT guidelines specified that 26-percent FDI would be permitted under government route for uploading and streaming of news and current affairs through digital media. Does this include online intermediaries that technically upload and stream news and current affairs; digital news aggregators; foreign news websites; existing digital-only media ventures, which already have a foreign shareholding above 26 percent; and TV channels with significant digital presence?

TRAI has recently recommended that the total number of platform services be capped to 3 percent of the total channel-carrying capacity of the DTH players, subject to a maximum of 15 such channels. The DTH operators with no spare channel capacity, in a multi-lingual country as India, with every broadcaster having their own OTT service disagree. TRAI has also recommended a one-time registration fee of `1000 per platform service, which the MIB has asked to increase to `1 lakh, to which the three large DTH operators contend that they are already paying the applicable license fees.

The authorities find the present eco system of set-top boxes extremely rigid. There exists an end-to-end vertical of DPO, CAS and middleware vendor, STB manufacturer and chip designer, resulting in technically non-interoperable STBs. TRAI recommended retention of the existing technical interoperability conditions, a regular updating of standards by BIS, and a mandate in the license for commercial interoperability. As expected, the DTH operators are up in arms.

Last but not the least, the recent steep hike of data tariffs by the telecom service providers is expected to give a jolt to the streaming market. With about 30 operators in the online video services market and the large ones having already announced huge investment plans and slashed India-only price points, a bloodbath in the making?

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