TV Viewers Do Not Have To Pay More In New Regime: TRAI

Putting consumer fears to rest, broadcast regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has assured viewers they will not have to pay more for television channels under the new regulation. According to the new tariff regime put in place by the regulator, consumers can now select and pay only for the channels that they want to watch at the maximum retail prices (MRPs) set by the respective broadcasters.

“The highest court of law has declared that the regulation is consumer-friendly. However, certain players in the media ecosystem are carrying out a misinformation campaign with ulterior motives to create fear in the minds of people and defeat this framework. These are unfounded,” said Trai chairman R.S. Sharma, referring to recent reports claiming that consumers will ultimately end up paying more, will only have the option of one kind of bouquet of channels and that there will be no discounts allowed.

“None of these are true,” Sharma told reporters during a media interaction.

Trai’s overall assertion is that prices would not just decrease but that the sector would benefit from more transparency. The regulator has about eight packages of different channel combinations on its website that clearly demonstrate there would be no price hike.

The move would also serve as a correction mechanism where channels that are used to overpricing will not have viewers opting for them, will lose eyeballs in the long run and ultimately be forced to bring down prices.

Data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), India’s television measurement agency, shows that 90 percent of people watch or flip through fewer than 50 channels a month, so the move will only bring in more choice for the customer, Sharma said.

Further, the inability to combine paid and free-to-air (FTA) channels in the same package will ensure that unwanted channels are not bundled together with popular driver channels, he said.

That will in turn enable the entry of new channels and fresh content, disrupting the dominance of established players. In the past few days, a clutch of television channels have announced new rates.

For example, Star India will have channel bundles in seven languages — including Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam — for the consumers to choose from, with Hindi packs starting at Rs 49.

Discovery Communications has also slashed its prices massively, with DSport, for example, having gone down from Rs 75 to Rs 4 per month on direct-to-home service Tata Sky.

The a-la-carte channels owned by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) are all under the mandated Rs 19 per month.

“Obviously, it’s a fundamental shift, but things will settle down,” Sharma said, adding that the country and its media and entertainment system are in a transition phase, and that the regulator is not looking at immediate disruption.

Apart from a set of frequently asked questions, or FAQs, on the telecom regulator’s website, Trai is also working with multi-system operators, or MSOs, on consumer outreach programmes to tell people about the benefits of the new move, with cities such as Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bhopal and New Delhi already covered and more in the pipeline in collaboration with the regulator’s regional offices.

“The purpose is to ensure that consumer is the king,” Sharma said.

“Out of a universe of 550-plus channels that are available at an all-India level, on average, a viewer watches a maximum of 212 channels in a quarter. Further, at a monthly level, 80 percent of the viewership comes from about 100 channels,” said Punit Misra, CEO (domestic broadcast business) at Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd.

The new pricing regime by Trai is a transformational structural reform that will go a long way in strengthening the sector as it puts the consumer front and centre, giving them the power of choice. They get the flexibility to opt for channels and bouquets they love, and more importantly, pay only for those, Misra added.

“It empowers the viewers to reallocate their monthly TV subscription budget to their favorite packs and channels, ensuring that they get the maximum value for their money. This development also standardizes channel prices across all distribution platforms, ensuring an open market operation that will lead to a completely demand-led pricing and transparency in the category,” he added.― Livemint

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