Trai tariff order arbitrary, ludicrous: Broadcasters

Trai tariff order arbitrary, ludicrous: Broadcasters
MUMBAI: In a rare instance of leading broadcasters jointly addressing the media, members of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) on Friday slammed Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (Trai's) recent order on pricing for channels and said "there was no need for it".

At the beginning of this year, Trai revisited its tariff order - which had come into effect in February 2019 - and reduced the maximum price a consumer has to pay for a channel from Rs 19 to Rs 12.

Broadcasters described the amendment to the tariff order as "detrimental to the orderly growth of the sector", and in contradiction to the government's stated position on "ease of doing business".

IBF president NP Singh, also managing director & CEO of Sony Pictures Network India; Uday Shankar, president of the Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific and Star India chairman; Punit Goenka, managing director & CEO at Zee Entertainment; Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO at Viacom18; and Aroon Purie of the India Today Group were among those who spoke on Trai's latest intervention.

The broadcasters termed the move an arbitrary discrimination between 'a la carte' and 'bouquets'. Star's Shankar called it "ludicrous" and said "the industry will use all its constitutional rights to challenge the order".

"In the last 15 years, Trai has issued more than 36 tariff orders in an attempt to micro-manage. These amendments make further disruptive changes in an industry already grappling with the paradigm shift to an MRP-based pricing regime," NP Singh said. While there have been multiple changes, Singh focused on the "arbitrary reduction" of the maximum pricing of a channel from Rs 19 to Rs 12 to remain part of a bouquet and said the move has been made "without any logical rationale or consumer insight".

When the National Tariff Order was introduced last year, Trai had taken a "conscious decision" to do away with the twin condition formula for bouquets, thus advocating free pricing, said Singh. "And now they have sought to reintroduce the twin conditions which negatively impacts pricing and packaging of bouquets. The new pricing will have to be very low and that will hamper the ability to provide quality content," he added.

Underlining that India is already the cheapest cable market in the world, the broadcasters said such interventions would put the future of the sector in jeopardy and sought a stable regulatory regime. They complained that they had spent around "a thousand crore educating consumers the last time tariffs changed", and were clearly worried that more expenditure could be in the offing.