MUMBAI: Television broadcasters and distribution platform operators (DPOs) have presented mixed views to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on whether or not to regulate clone or variant channels.
In the consultation paper titled ‘Tariff issues related to TV services’, TRAI highlighted the need to review the practice of clone channels, which are not in consumer interest. It had sought stakeholders’ comments on the approach that may be adopted for regulation of such variant or clone channels.
TRAI had mentioned about two categories of clone channels: 1) channels with same content but different language feeds, 2) standard-definition (SD) channels that are down-converted or exact replicas of the original high-definition (HD) channels, except for the enhanced definition feature.
Star says TRAI has no jurisdiction over content
In its submission to TRAI, Star India said that TRAI does not have requisite jurisdiction over the content shown on any channel. It also said that broadcasters are free to put any content on their channel, as long as it is in conformity with the programming and advertisement codes.
The broadcaster also contended that the linguistically modified channels are not clones as separate licenses are granted for such channels, and hence they are distinct and separate from each other. It further stated that broadcasters have to acquire specific content rights for creating different language feeds.
Consumers have complete freedom of choice and can select one or more channels as per their preference. The RIO-based models, it said, would ensure that a la carte channels are realistically viable for consumers, negating any attempt at force-bundling of channels.
Tata Sky wants no regulation
Taking a similar view, DTH operator Tata Sky submitted that there is no need to regulate either the creation or pricing of such channels.
The DTH operator stated that the creation of multiple channels or variants is a common feature anywhere in the world. It further stated that variant or clone channels have similar content, but there are differences in content or packaging of the channel, which makes it meaningful for a consumer to subscribe to it.
For example, there are consumers who want channels today with a time difference, such as a +1 hour feed, or a +2 hour feed, and would be willing to pay an additional fee for the same.
Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), on the other hand, stated that channels that have the same video stream feed with different language audio feed and SD channels that are exact replicas of original HD channels should get the same treatment.
“In other words, there should be no separate charges for the channels having the same content but multiple audio feed. Similarly, if the SD channel is the exact replica of HD channel, then the tariff for only HD channel should be levied,” the broadcaster submitted.
Dish TV opposes clone or variant channels
Dish TV was most scathing in its criticism of clone or variant channels. The DTH operator submitted that clone channels can be allowed, but the regulation should ensure that there is no bundling or charging of clones on the subscribers.
“There is no need to regulate an illegality that has been perpetuated in the industry and has been totally ignored by the regulator. On the contrary, the illegality of creating clones of a channel should immediately be scrapped,” it stated.
It also stated that DTH operators, unlike multi system operators (MSO), have to carry different feeds nationally despite the bandwidth crunch that they face.
It further submitted that any channel which shows any sports content that has already been shown in any other sports channel should be considered a clone channel. Further, no sports content that has been shown on a particular channel should be shown on any other channel or medium for a particular period from the date of first display, the DTH operator said.
Reliance Digital TV
Reliance Digital TV concurred that clones that run the same content in different languages should not be permitted as they consume transponder bandwidth. Channels that run old content of some other channels should be termed ‘clone channels’ and should only operate as FTA channels in the interest of the consumers, it stated further.
Such channels should add audio options of different languages that can be selected by the consumers, the DTH operator submitted.
IndiaCast says pricing of variant channels should be decided by market forces
IndiaCast Media Distribution said that the pricing of the variant channels should be left to be decided by the market forces. The variant channels have been introduced keeping in view different masses/classes of the population and to increase the reach of the content of broadcasters. Sony Pictures Networks India echoed similar sentiments.
MSO Hathway Cable & Datacom submitted that the integrated distribution network gives subscribers the choice whether or not to take variant/clone channels since the model envisages that pay channels be offered on a la carte basis. Hence, no regulatory intervention is needed, it added.
Variant channels should be defined but not regulated, says DEN
DEN Networks stated that variant channels should be defined but not regulated, if the same is provided to consumers and are charged for either of the channels and not for both channels. In the event a DPO/broadcaster intends to charge separately for variants of the channels, then there would be a need to regulate clones including giving choice to the consumers to pick either of the clone channels, it stated.
Siti Cable for regulation
Siti Cable submitted that clone channels should be regulated and the customer should not be charged for the same content again in the name of a different language or format in the category of clone channels. Cloning, it said, should be permitted only to an extent that pay channel content can be cloned to a free-to-air channel after a gap of first telecast and not vice versa.