The Indian broadcast and telecom regulator TRAI has refused to postpone the implementation of the amended tariff order on television channel pricing in court.
The Bombay High Court had, on Wednesday, asked TRAI to state whether it was open to pushing back the date for the implementation of the amended tariff order by one month – to April 1.
However, the regulator today informed the court that it is not willing to push back the date of implementation.
In light of this, the Bombay High Court has allowed the parties — including various broadcasters and their associations, a cable operator association and the TRAI itself — to continue their arguments today.
The hearing will be continued tomorrow as well in an attempt by the court to come to a decision — interim or final — before the new guidelines come into force on Sunday.
Unless the Bombay High Court gives a stay on TRAI’s modified tariff order on Friday, the new guidelines will kick in on Sunday.
The primary focus of the amended tariff rules announced by TRAI on January 1 is on bringing down channel prices.
At present most of the popular channels are priced at Rs 19 per month, or Rs 22.42 including tax.
However, under the new rules issued by TRAI, any channel priced above Rs 12 cannot be sold as a part of any package — whether that package is created by the channel owner or the cable/DTH firm.
Because of this restriction, it was expected that channel owners will cut the prices of their expensive channels from Rs 19 to Rs 12 per month.
However, broadcasters have instead dug in their heels and refused to implement any price cuts. Instead, they seem to be willing to have their popular channels — such as Star Plus, Zee TV, Sun TV and Sony Entertainment Television — removed from all packs and plans from Sunday.
Instead, they seem to be hoping that consumers will buy these channels one by one, or a la carte.
However, according to industry sources, broadcasters will reduce their prices to Rs 12 if they fail to get any relief from the various high courts where cases are currently going on.
Channel owners have cited various reasons why the courts should strike down the 12 rupee rule and reinstate the 19 rupee rule, including that selling their channels at Rs 12 will not generate enough money to create quality content, and that frequent changes in these rules are not good for the industry.
On the other hand, TRAI has pointed out that broadcasters are, even now, selling these channels at prices well below Rs 12 as part of various packs.
TRAI says that broadcasters have priced their channels at Rs 19 not because they want to get Rs 19 from the consumer, but only to prevent consumers from buying channels one by one and forcing them to buy them in packs.
TRAI has argued that this is being done to push ‘unwanted’ and ‘junk’ channels onto consumers’ TV sets in the form of various packages and bouquets.
In addition, TRAI has also argued that such action on the part of big broadcasters is aimed at driving out small broadcasters who have only 1 or 2 channels.
When consumers are forced to buy big packages with a dozen channels or more, they will not have any money or slots left to buy the channels offered by small broadcasters who have only 1 or 2 channels, it has argued.
If Bombay High Court refuses to issue a stay on the new rules tomorrow, the amended tariff regulation — including the new 12 rupee rule — will come into effect from Sunday and cable and DTH operators will have to remove all channels priced above Rs 12 from all their packs.
As a result, people who are watching such expensive channels as part of various packs — such as Sony Happy India Pack or Star Value Pack or Zee Family Pack — will find that these channels are no longer available as part of these packs.
If they want to continue to watch these channels from Sunday, they will have to log into their customer service portal or app and activate these channels manually at a cost of Rs 22.42 per channel per month. They can also call their cable operator and request them to activate such channels.