2019 has had its share of excitement on the M&A front. It saw Subhash Chandra, chairman Zee step down, after a three-decade tenure in a bid to repay a `11,000-crore debt, as his family’s stake in the company fell to 5 percent. The Walt Disney Company’s USD 71.3-billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox led to a mass layoff, although Star India seems to have an upper hand as opposed to Disney India. With the Sony and Viacom18 merger in the offing, we have a broadcasting behemoth in the making, and perhaps the world’s largest distribution company with the merger of Dish TV and Airtel Digital TV. The launch of Disney Plus in India is awaited, albeit it may only be in the second half of 2020, post IPL’s finish on May 12, and may be routed through Hotstar. Disruption is anticipated with the recent introduction of Reliance’s FTTH service.
The LCOs have been grappling with the regulator for a level playing field, that the content be priced at the same tariff by OTT players as by distribution platform operators, rather than be offered free of cost on their streaming platforms. And the recent announcement in the Union Budget of an allocation of `6000 crore for the BharatNet program, thereby promoting online video consumption on OTT platforms, will make their life tougher. While linking 100,000 gram panchayats through optical fiber network within this year itself is a laudable objective, and regulation of the OTT industry almost impossible, this dichotomy needs to be resolved.
In the backdrop of the TRAI-mandated NTO, the broadcasters, expecting large losses, and anticipating a huge challenge to create high-quality content are in the courts over the TRAI’s amendment announced on January 1, 2020, the 36th change in regulation in the last 15 years. In an already hugely chaotic scenario, in an industry where prices are so low that players do not have the price arbitrage their global counterparts do, would it not be prudent for the regulator to let market forces operate, and allow the players to be able to use all the ingenuity they have in pricing, content, and packaging, at least for some time?
We look forward to meeting our readers at BES Expo 2020, being held from February 13 to 15 in New Delhi.