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"New NTO means 1st one was not thoughtful": Uday Shankar

"Broadcasters spent more than Rs 1,000 crore in making sure the NTO was successfully implemented": NP Singh, SPNI

Members of IBF (Indian Broadcast Foundation) addressed the media today at press conference arranged by the IBF, to challenge the TRAI's (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) amendment to the recently issued NTO (New Tariff Order).

Excerpts.

Uday Shankar, president of The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific, and chairman of Star India and The Walt Disney Company India

"As you know, members of the IBF are not trigger happy when it comes to interactions with the media... because we believe our job is to create content, not become part of the content. The last time the IBF came together as a body and addressed the media was for a very constructive cause around 2010-11 when we were working with the government to initiate the process of cable liberalisation. So you can understand the disruptive significance of the initiative by the TRAI - and how it has forced all of us to come here and talk directly to you. Please understand how troubled we all are.

On the dias (L-R) Sidharth Jain, Punit Misra, K Madhavan, Punit Goenka, NP Singh, Uday Shankar, Aroon Purie, Sudhanshu Vats, Megha Tata, I Venkat
On the dias (L-R) Sidharth Jain, Punit Misra, K Madhavan, Punit Goenka, NP Singh, Uday Shankar, Aroon Purie, Sudhanshu Vats, Megha Tata, I Venkat

When the TRAI came into existence and was given charge of managing the distribution of media... From then on, the tariff was frozen and nothing was done for a long time, to the extent the Supreme Court had to reconvene and say a comprehensive tariff exercise had to be done. And that's when the authorities woke up to the need for a tariff re-visit. And now, in less than a year, two tariff exercises have been done. I'm not a legal person nor am I a regulator, to my mind, this doesn't make sense. If a thoughtful, comprehensive, collaborative exercise was done last year, then what is the need for this one? It clearly means the previous exercise was not thoughtful...

It hasn't even been allowed to settle down. Thousands of crores were spent educating the consumer and the ecosystem about the new tariff structure. Despite its shortcomings it was taking off the ground pretty well. Over a crore-and-a-half people had opted for a la carte channels... it was moving in the right direction, and suddenly the whole thing is being reset to zero.

Clearly this is not good for the industry and the regular doesn't seem to care about this. If the regulator is so concerned with bringing down the price for the consumer then why, in the name of an NCF, are cable operators, distributors being allowed to charge as much as Rs.160 for something the free dish is giving for free? The contradiction is ludicrous.

Last time, we had pointed out that the prices for the consumer will go up and they did go up. Now it's like trying to clean up a mess that's been created..."

Also Read: TRAI amends tariff order: Broadcasters fume, MSOs neutral, customers to pay less

NP Singh, MD and CEO, Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI)

"The IBF has gathered here to discuss recent developments that can potentially trigger another round of large scale disruption that we saw just a few months ago, which has had a huge impact on our businesses... it is detrimental to the growth of the sector.

Content is king and broadcasters invest substantial amounts of money in content.

Any industry looks forward to a stable and consistent regulatory regime that works for the benefit of all stakeholders. As broadcasters, we expect a regulatory regime that enables our long term business plans and one that has a strategic approach towards investors... a regime that helps us provide the best content to our consumers...

Over the last 15 years of regulating the broadcast sector, the TRAI has issued more than 36 tariff orders... in February 2019, TRAI came up with a new tariff order - we all know it as the NTO - which brought about far-reaching changes to the way channels were priced. While the broadcasting industry was apprehensive about the magnitude of changes, we supported it and put our might behind the move... and to the best of our abilities made sure the implementation was successful. Broadcasters spent more than Rs 1,000 crore in making sure the NTO was successfully implemented and communication to the consumer was carried out.

Consumers went through an inconvenience, broadcasters lost revenue... but even as the new regime was settling down by the end of 2020, TRAI made amendments to the NTO, which brought in more disruptive changes to an industry already grappling with a paradigm shift to an MRP based pricing regime.

Channel pricing is related to the quality of content, something the regulator seems to consistently ignore. This is very unfortunate. In a competitive, open market such as broadcast, channel pricing should be determined differently. TRAI is also negatively impacting the way broadcasters price their bouquets. Using regulations to limit the number of bouquets being offered to the consumer is fundamentally restricting consumer choice. One size can't fit all. However, the TRAI appears to have a predisposition towards a la carte and a bias against bouquets. This is arbitrary and discriminatory.

We want a market-friendly and non-discriminatory approach. Content creators have been disempowered and their fundamental right to monetise their content in the manner they see fit has been taken away. The IBF believes the latest amendments will severely and adversely impact the industry."

Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO & MD, Viacom18 and Vice-President IBF

"The objective of NTO 1 was first - to give choice to consumers, second - to bring transparency and third - to reduce litigation. While only the first two have happened, it's too early to talk about the third. Statistically, overall 94% of Indians are aware of the NTO and the choices they have because of the efforts made by the broadcast industry collectively. The month on month churn in industry shows that people are continuously fine-tuning their choices. The other objective of NTO was transparency which it has also brought in. The question therefore, is 'what is the fundamental need to change again? In my opinion there was no need'.

India is a heterogenous country with different choices and abilities to pay. In every sector there is a wide spectrum and that needs to play out more in Indian media as well. This push for consistency shouldn’t come in the way of the industry's and economy's growth. In the M&E industry there is a lot of dynamism and flux and hence the broadcast sector needs to be able to settle down. If there has to be any change we need to allow for enough time for its implementation and also changes shouldn't be suggested so frequently."