The Conditional Access System that is
being introduced in India for Cable TV channels in four metros from July
14 will bring in significant changes to the Convergent media scene in
The changes that are likely to happen
are both in the commercial aspects of the way Electronic media will be
operating, but also in several regulatory aspects.
On the regulatory front, the
Government has fixed that a minimum of 30 channels have to be offered by
every Cable operator as "FTA" (Free to air" channels at a maximum
subscription of Rs 72 per month. Many of the Multi System Operators (MSO)
who are presently operating as "Super Cable TV Operator" have announced
that they would be offering nearly 60 channels under this free category.
The Channels which are categorised as
"Pay Channels" are those for whom the broadcaster is charging a fee from
the MSO and such channels have to be provided through "Addressable
Systems" or Set Top Boxes (STB).
It is claimed in support of the
system that CAS would give a choice to the consumer in selecting channels
and paying only for the Channels that he chooses. One section of the
Community is expressing opposition to the system fearing that the system
will increase the cost to the consumer without corresponding benefits.
Some of the key issues that require
debate in this regard are as follows:
1. Bunching of Channels:
Presently there is a system of
bunching of channels under which a broadcaster is offering a bouquet of
channels to the MSO at a fixed total price. It was clarified in the media
some time back that Government will not allow such packages to be forced
on the consumer.
However, the proposal has resurfaced
in the MSO s meeting on June 12th where different broadcasters are
reported to be planning a bunching of channels on the basis of category.
i.e., instead of the earlier bunching of say Star Plus with Star World,
Star Movies etc, present bunching would be Star Plus with Zee, Star Cinema
with Zee Cinema etc.
It does not require any deep thinking
to understand that this proposal is again defeating the purpose of CAS
since the choice of the consumer is taken away. If anything it is worse
than the earlier system since this forces the consumer to subscribe to
duplicate channels of the same category.
2. Profile of Free Channels:
The Cable TV Regulations Act 1995
mandates that all channels that are broadcast by the Cable TV operator
subscribe to some programme code. It is widely believed that channels such
as FTV and MTV frequently overstep the prescribed code.
According to the current reports, the
FTA channels will include channels such as FTV and also Al Jazeera and PTV.
It is strange that channels that are
likely to stray out of the programme code and also carry news which may
destabilize the communal harmony in the country and possibly be a threat
to the unity and integrity of the country would now be beamed under the
FTA banner with a de-facto endorsement from the GOI as "Consumer Friendly"
The possibilities of several foreign
channels engaged in both political and religious propaganda flooding the
FTA channel space is looming large on the Indian scenario. These channels
have deep pockets and the long term impact of such channels can only be
detrimental to the interests of the country.
3. Advertisements in Pay Channels:
Presently, the TV broadcasters are
having two revenue steams. One is the advertisements and the second is the
subscription collected through the Cable TV operators if the channel is a
Pay channel. The complaint of the channel owners is that there is a gross
under reporting of the number of consumers and hence they are not getting
their full revenue for the pay channels. The CAS system is expected to
correct this problem and provide them the correct estimate of the number
of pay subscribers.
With the new system coming into play,
there will be an endorsement of the Government for this dual revenue
stream. As a result, it would be legitimate for the Pay channels to also
In the Internet media to which the TV
broadcasting is converging , there is a clear norm as well as law (in some
countries other than India) that "Unsolicited Advertising" amounts to an
offence called "Spam" and is punishable.
The logic for making "Spam" an
offence is that the subscriber is receiving the content at a price and
delivery of spam reduces the content value besides "annoying" and
"disturbing his mental peace".
With the Convergence Act likely to
become law in India, there will soon be no difference between TV
broadcasting and ISP business. The laws for both has to be uniform.
Even now, if the channels are
broadcasting in digital form then the Information Technology Act already
recognizes the video stream as a "Sequence of Electronic Documents" and
hence the laws of the Cyber Space could be applied to Digital TV
broadcasting as well.
It is therefore inappropriate for the
Government to support a system which is against the global convention and
against the laws of many countries.
Some time back, Ms Sushma Swaraj did
mention that the advertisements in Pay channels would not be allowed.
However it appears that she has been effectively silenced by the industry.
It is necessary to debate this aspect
in great length.
Firstly, if there present contention
that only around 30 % of the consumer number is reported, then the
introduction of CAS should raise their subscription income by more than 3
times. If the total ban on advertising in Pay channels are not considered
practicable, then the Channel owners have to provide justification for the
same in the light of such increase.
Secondly, there is presently no norm
in the industry for Ad-Content ratio. Unlike a newspaper ad, where there
is a norm and besides the reader has an option to skip the ad and read
only the content, the TV ads are a forced intrusion which cannot be even
filtered like the Internet ads. The degree of annoyance to the consumer is
therefore higher in TV ads than Internet or Print ads.
The industry should therefore either
agree to "No Advertisements in Pay Channels" and accordingly price their
channels or agree to a ad-content ratio for each programme with a ban on
ads within the programme time.
The ad-content ratio has to also make
a distinction between live event broadcasts and serials since the ads in
the live broadcasts may irretrievably lose content for which the consumer
has paid money.
One formula is that the ad content of
serials in pay channels should not exceed 15 % of broadcast time and ad
content of live events in pay channels should be zero. In the FTA channels
this can be relaxed to 25 % and 10 % respectively.
The channels can work out the
economics of going Pay or going free and pricing their slots based on the
10 % of content time available as ad space.
A strict regulation in this regard is
required as a part of the CAS implementation.
4. The Threat to Consumer:
The Cable TV regulation act of 1995
and the amendment are essentially acts to regulate the industry. Hence the
penal provisions of the act apply only to the Cable TV operators. However,
in the coming days when Convergence Act becomes law, there is a clear
provision where the Consumer will be punishable for any "Benefits
Received" through a service which is not according to the law. This means
that if the Cable TV operator provides a Pay channel without collecting
money and has doctored the STB to suppress the information to the
broadcaster, then along with the Cable TV operator, the consumer may also
go to jail and pay fines.
In the run up to the Convergence Act,
it is not inconceivable for regulators to start interpreting any violation
of law on the part of the consumer as "Contributory Offence".
With the availability of STB s in the
grey market and the possibility of manipulation of the STBs the threat to
the Consumers being either lured into violation by a friendly cable
operator or being taken in by ignorance are very high.
The anti consumer provisions in the
Convergence Act has to be closely watched and removed before it becomes a
law. In the meantime, it should be ensured that consumers should be
indemnified against any liability for violations of the Cable TV operator
through an appropriate notification.
Spam Enters Indian TV Broadcasting