Direct-to-home (DTH) giants Airtel Digital TV and Tata Sky along with several cable operators are annoyed with leading broadcasters such as ZEE, Sony Pictures Networks India, Star & Disney India and Viacom18. The reason is that the broadcasters are placing some of their pay channels on DD FreeDish, which is the Prasar Bharati-owned free-to-air (FTA) platform.
Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV Concern
The DPOs (Distribution Platform Operators), which is a combined term for both DTH and cable operators are miffed as the broadcasters are charging subscribers for these channels while these are actually free on FreeDish.
As per Harit Nagpal, the MD & CEO of Tata Sky, there are 20 channels for now that are part of the pay bouquets of the above-mentioned broadcasters. These channels are priced between `0.10 to `5 per month. If any subscriber wants these channels, they must pay for these, but the FreeDish users can enjoy these for free. He cites that there is no level playing field.
Furthermore, Nagpal added that Airtel Digital TV and Tata Sky have written this issue to TRAI, thereby raising their concerns with these broadcasters, but in vain. As per the current regulatory framework for this sector, the broadcasters should publish the MRP of their bouquets and channels and should not bundle pay channels with free-to-air channels.
Broadcasters Use Gap In Policy
Also, broadcasters cannot have discriminatory costs as they enter into interconnect agreements with the DPOs that are registered with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. These broadcasters are using a loophole as the platform is beyond the ambit of tariff regulations framed by TRAI.
Regarding this concern, a senior lawyer who wishes to be anonymous stated that the pricing of slots on DD FreeDish appears to undo the efforts taken towards creating a level playing field among DPOs. With this, the broadcasters have a chance to exploit the gap in the policy by placing pay channels along with FTA channels.
For the uninitiated, Prasar Bharati-owned DD FreeDish is an FTA DTH service sans a monthly subscription fee. Consumers have to make a one-time investment for dish and Set-Top boxes. It is estimated that DD FreeDish has over 40 million subscribers, which is over 25 per cent of total TV households in the country.