The year 2018 appears to have passed very soon as nothing significant has happened for the cable and broadcast industry throughout the year. All hopes for a better future at the beginning of the year have belied and industry is in a state of gloom. TRAI’s Tariff Order and regulations are still stuck in the court, carrying forward the hopes of a regulated industry to the next year. Economic situation in the country is topsy turvy and hopes for stable economy are again being carried forward to 2019.
New Media is gaining ground in the country unabated, thanks to our large population with more than fifty percent youth and growing penetration of mobile phones. Our open door policy has encouraged the global media houses to converge here for the online media business which has overshadowed the conventional methods of media and entertainment business.
Torrential rains and heavy floods in Kerala have caused unprecedented havoc in the State. Not only Kerala, other adjoining areas of Tamilnadu and Karnataka have also suffered heavy losses of life and material. The whole country is trying to help the people of Kerala with financial as well as material aid. Hundreds of villages have been inundated and lakhs of people have been displaced. Our cable operator fraternity has faced the calamity bravely and trying to help the society in spite of having suffered tremendously in their business. Their networks have been completely destroyed still cable operators associations, MSOs, broadcasters and media houses are trying their best to provide whatever help they can. It speaks very high of the broadcast community who themselves have suffered heavily losses.
The Tariff Order for addressable systems notified by TRAI on 3rd July after favourable judgement by the Madras High Court has once again been challenged by Star India, this time in the Supreme Court. Although its implementation has not been stayed by the Court, uncertainty in the Industry continues.
The Madras HC verdict on TRAI’s tariff order case has been finally delivered by the third judge after the two judge bench gave a split order. The court has upheld the Tariff Order 2017 framed by the Regulator except the 15% cap on discount offered by broadcasters to the MSOs. As per the press note issued by the TRAI, regulations including the Tariff Order, Interconnection Regulation, Quality of Service and consumers Protection Regulations, for all types of addressable systems will come into effect from 3rd July 2018.
MIB gets a changeover with the MoS Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore taking over as full time I&B Minister after a Cabinet reshuffle last month. Smriti Irani has been left only with Textile Ministry now. MIB also gets a new secretary in a Senior IAS officer Amit Khare as N K Sinha superannuates on May 31.
In a very surprising move the MIB has now decided to extend the date of digitisation till March 2020, after the Parliamentary Standing Committee for IT had pulled up the Ministry for not doing enough to ensure smooth and complete implementation of DAS (Digital Addressable Systems) in the country for the benefit of consumers. This decision comes after one year of the Ministry declaring successful completion of digitisation on 31st March 2017. The Ministry now accepts that only 87% of existing consumers have been seeded with digital Set-Top-Boxes. However, according to Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), 40 million subscribers have been deprived of Cable TV services, many of them in the far flung areas still getting analog signals where neither the MSO are able to provide the digital feed nor the DTH operators are capable of providing service.
For the last two months, we have been focusing on national economy which is going haywire. The stock index is fluctuating between 33 thousand and 36 thousand and above, for the last two months, giving real jolt to the economic situation.
The budget is out and as usual, there are mixed reactions from people of the industry. However, in general, everyone accepts that the budget is completely designed to lure farmers and poor people who have been protesting so far for not getting their due from the government. The Modi Government will face the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019 and does not want to leave a large chunk of the population in anguish. The health insurance for the poor people and higher MSP for the farmers are the main highlights of the budget.
It is time to welcome the New Year with new aspirations and new hopes. After Demonetisation ended on 31st December 2016, it adversely impacted the economy throughout the 2017. Implementation of GST, country’s biggest economic reform further added to the woes of the industry due to confusion created by different slabs, lack of understaning of procedures and frequent modifications to the rules and deadlines. Thank God, after an year, there are some hopes of improvement in the economy and businesses are coming to a normalcy. Many small businesses in telecom as well as broadcast industries have however, suffered irrevocably.
On 8th November 2017, the government will be celebrating ‘the Anti Black Money Day’ whereas the opposition parties will protest against the demonetisation process and its negative impact on the medium and small industries. Although, an year ago, on 8th November 2016, PM Modi told the public to wait for 50 days to complete Demonetisation and enjoy ‘Achhe Din’ once black money is removed from the country, none of this is visible even now, after an year.
Our industry is facing a business crisis due to prevailing economic conditions in the country. It all started with demonetization followed by hurried implementation of GST. Although government has advanced the date for submission of GST reports/ there is still a lot of confusion in its implementation, particularly in the small and medium industries. Moreover broadband infrastructure is not yet adequate and efficient enough to take on millions of high speed transactions. Many areas in the country do not even have access to broadband network to get connected to the GSTN.
In spite of all efforts of the government to uplift the economy starting with demonetisation, then GST, skill development, Digital India, Cashless economy and ease of doing business, results so far are dismal. According to RBI’s own figures Demonetisation has been proved a failure as 99% demonetised notes have come back. Country’s growth rate has slumped to a three year low of 5.7%, economic growth has come down to 6%, manufacturing sector is struggling with a growth of just 1.2% compared to 10% in the same quarter last year and businesses are still trying to understand and implement the GST.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) has a new Minister, Ms Smriti Irani, a veteran from the television industry who understands the sector well. Let’s hope she initiates some innovative steps to make the environment in the Industry better. At present, in spite of our country doing well on the economic front, our industry is mired with court battles between the stakeholders and the regulator TRAI holding up the regulatory process for which efforts were on since 2003.
When the clock struck 12 on 30th June 2017 midnight, India entered an era of financial revolution introducing a single tax regime called the ‘Goods and Services Tax’. The event was celebrated in the Parliament with all the fanfare with the President, Sh Pranab Mukherjee ringing the bell to usher in the historic economic reform in the country.
As a regular exercise, TDSAT, the telecom sector tribunal, held a Seminar on ‘Digitisation: Achievements Issues and the Way Forward’ on 20th May in Chandigarh. It was well attended by the Judges of different courts, lawyers, MSOs, broadcasters and LCOs. For TDSAT’s new Chairman, Hon’ble Justice Shiva Kirti Singh, it was the first-of-its kind seminar where members of TDSAT interacted with consumers and industry stakeholders in an open environment.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB), on 21 April, issued an Advisory to all authorized officers to initiate action against any defaulting MSO/Cable Operator who transmits analogue signals on Cable TV network anywhere in the country as the deadline of 31 March 2017 for the last phase of mandatory Digitisation has gone past. The main question is - what will happen to millions of people who have not been given access to digital signals or they are unable to afford it? According to Ministry’s own statement, only 70% seeding has been achieved in Phase III & IV leaving millions of households with analogue cable. Also, 20 % India is poor; can a government force them to go without television because they cannot afford a technology which the Government wishes to enforce for its own gains?
The Madras High Court declined Star and Vijay TV’s request for stay on TRAI’s Tariff Order and other regulations. The broadcasters had amended their petitions soon after TRAI notified the Tariff Order in March this year. The plea taken by them is that exploitation of content comes under the Copyright Act and TRAI has no jurisdiction over it to decide the tariff for TV channels.
Finally on 31st March, Digitisation has been declared completed in the country on 31st March 2017. MIB has already issued a notice for all stakeholders to switch off analogue signals and has warned strict action against any violation. It is a different issue that as per the minutes of the latest Task Force Meeting held on 14th March, only 64% of STB seeding has been achieved in Phase-III and IV. This is only the official report based on MIS data received from a few MSOs out of a total of 1150. Also, all these statistics are based on 2011 census.
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