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    DTH and Digital TV companies argue for content parity between streaming services and television in the National Broadcast Policy

    Direct to Home (DTH) television provider DEN Network argued that Cable TV platforms should also be allowed to show the content available on over-the-top (OTT) platforms to establish content parity, in its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation on the National Broadcasting Policy. OTT, in the context of this consultation, refers to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and JioCinema. DEN Network has advocated that the National Broadcasting Policy should, “mandate to provide all the available “Content” to consumers, at an affordable price without any discriminations between distribution platforms.” 

    DEN Network, is notably not the only television content distributor that has argued for content parity, others like Tata Play and Digital TV companies Hathway and Siti Network have also argued the same. Siti Network has also drawn attention to the fact that since OTTs are not regulated, they do not have to meet the compliance requirements other broadcasters do, including the Programme Code under the Cable TV Act. “Also, the content available on OTT is either on a free basis or at very minimal cost, while for the same content MSOs [multiple system operators] have to pay a hefty amount,” Siti Network explains. 

    The company suggests that applying the Programme and Advertisement code to OTT platforms would not only promote Indian Culture but also help to prevent distribution of the content which is not acceptable in society. It argues that due to the non-applicability of the Programme code, the current content on OTT platforms is “not only beyond decency but also deteriorating our culture”. 

    Key arguments about OTT regulation:

    • Telco regulation helped customers, same would be the case with OTTs: Siti Network draws attention to the telecom sector, stating that it was regulated since inception, which has been to the benefit of customers. If OTTs are regulated at the current stage, it would yield an orderly regulated growth. If not, it would lead to the same situation as currently present with cable TV, which was left free for two decades and regulated after that. This late-stage regulation has left the cable TV industry struggling. 
    • If left unregulated, OTTs would mar the cable industry: Siti Network mentions that as of 2023, there are approximately over 97 million OTT (paid) subscribers. Due to a lack of regulation and minimal costs, subscribers have shifted from cable TV and MSOs to OTTs. “The Authority [TRAI] in one of its Consultation Papers has itself acknowledged that the cable television industry has lost nearly 48 million customers since digitization,” Siti Network says. It mentions that in the interest of content parity, linear channels should not be allowed to be distributed through OTT platforms. 

     

    • DTH providers have stricter compliances than OTTs: Tata Play points out that DTH players in India have been suffering from overregulation, especially since the advent of the National Tariff Order, while other players like OTTs and DD Free Dish conduct a similar and substitutable function but do not fall under the TRAI Regulatory structure. It mentioned that DTH players have to pay 8% of their gross revenue as a license fee but OTT Platforms, while providing the same service to end customers, are not burdened with any license fee. “Imposing License Fee on [the] DTH industry while not imposing on others, seems like an attempt to discourage one technology while encouraging others,” the company says, urging for regulatory parity across all distribution platforms. This parity, it says, can be brought about by doing away with fees currently imposed on DTH providers.

     

    Important points made in television service providers submissions:

    The structure of the National Broadcasting policy:

    • Separate regulator for broadcasters: Dish TV and Siti Network have both asked for a separate regulator for the broadcasting space. Dish TV said that the industry has been asking for a broadcast regulator that is independent of the telecom regulator on the lines of OFCOM and that despite the slogans of convergence between telecom and broadcasting sectors (as evidenced by the telcos’ submissions), the two industries operate in a largely independent manner. It argues that Telcos (due to their high revenues) have been able to gain multiple concessions from the government, while linear broadcasting has received a “step-motherly treatment” with the imposition of Tariff Orders, limitations on channel pricing, etc. Thus, there should be a separate regulator for broadcasting (which Siti names ‘Broadcasting Authority of India or BRAI) to take care of all the content and distribution-related issues among various platforms. It adds that local offices of BRAI should be created to ensure strict compliance with regulations. 

     

    • Pricing parity: Siti Network says that the policy should implement pricing parity across content distribution platforms, “by promulgating the new regulations to keep broadcasting services cost-effective [and] affordable and to implement the same in true letter and spirit.”  

     

    • Material to be produced local-global: Hathway says that one of the missions of the policy should be to establish a global ecosystem for the production of high-quality content and its dissemination on a range of channels. Further, to enable Indian local content to be viewed on international platforms, new initiatives and platforms must be created.  

     

    • The policy should protect press and media freedom and enable the free exchange of information.  
    • It should also offer incentives and support for the creation of high-quality content within India. 

    Promoting regional content on OTT platforms:

    Dish TV has argued that OTT players in India face direct competition from foreign OTTs like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The company pointed out that Netflix says it will spend approximately Rs. 141,950 Crores in India in 2024. Comparatively, the Indian film industry has a size of Rs. 14,000 crores or just 10% of the spending on content by just one player Netflix. “Hence it is very important that the Indian content industry continues to be given a free environment and all opportunities to earn revenues,” it says. These revenues include— streaming rights, satellite rights (currently constrained by tariff regulations), box office (constrained by censorship and taxation), content threatened by the new enactments of regulations on OTT (oversight committees, etc)

    Siti Network, on the other hand, states that to ensure the promotion of local content on OTTs, there should be a requirement that 33% of content to be shown on a platform should be local. 

    There are no TV “Dark Households”, OTT has reached every home:

    Responding to TRAI’s question about how affordable TV services should be provided to households without television access (TV dark households) due to the readily available OTT services, Siti Network pointed out that there is no such thing as a TV dark household. In reality, it says, such households should be called “Cable Dark Households”. “In the remote areas people predominantly watch the content on their mobile and OTT, and hardly on cable TV,” Siti Network said, explaining that the reason behind this was the cable TV players are not allowed to provide a bouquet of channels based on the geographical region. As such, it suggests that TRAI should allow cable TV operators to form such bouquets. 

    Besides this, it mentions that once OTT players and DD Free Dish are brought under regulation, subscribers would have the proper option to watch the content of their choice on OTT/Free Dish/ Cable platforms at affordable rates.

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    The post DTH and Digital TV companies argue for content parity between streaming services and television in the National Broadcast Policy appeared first on MediaNama.

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