We still are pushing the content to the consumers and not letting them pull it. Digitisation will never be accepted this way wholeheartedly. For once, all stake holders need to compromise their commercial interests for the sake of creating a transparent market that will bring more and more customers in its fold. We should not forget that the New Media is ready to take over the market soon as consumer gets his choice anytime, anywhere on multiple devices. Some suggestions to bring quality in broadcasting sector are given below. We have to start from the Broadcasters downwards to the MSOs and LCOs as the content flows this way. TRAI has already framed many regulations to control the LCOs. Even the Cable TV Act regulates only the LCOs and independent MSOs, the last mile owners.
Broadcasters’ shorrtcomings and solutions
(a) They do not follow any programming or advertising codes and insist on self regulation that has not worked. We need a broadcast regulator badly.
(b) They do not adhere to the Twelve Minute Cap on advertising as prescribed in Cable Television Rule 7 (11). High Court must be told that it is violation of Cable Rule and not a question of TRAI’s jurisdiction.
(c) They do not follow Cable TV Rule 7 (6) that say, “The picture and the audible matter of the advertisement shall not be excessively loud.”
(d) TRAI has not put any curbs on the type of advertisements like quarter screen ad, half-screen ad, scrolls, in content advertising etc. They do not follow Cable TV Rule 7 (10) that says -
“All advertisement should be clearly distinguishable from the programme and should not in any manner interfere with the programme viz., use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme.”
e)Consumers do not want any advertisement if they pay for a particular channel.
f)Surprisingly, TRAI has avoided regulating PAY channel prices and also, allowed them to make money from advertisements for twelve minutes in an hour, Keeping them at par with FTA channels, which is not justified and also not in the interest of consumers and FTA broadcasters who are more than 600 in India.
g)Broadcasters often block the screen during the crucial moment in a programme for no fault of consumers or cable operators, due to their dispute with the MSO, displaying a disturbing and misleading message, asking consumers to approach their Cable Operators as they have not been paid. Because of this irritation, many customers do not pay their subscription or do it partly.
h)Pay channel broadcasters need encryption for accountability of subscriptions where as FTA channels do not demand that, as they get advertisements based on TAM ratings. However, TRAI has equated FTA channels with pay channels, mandating their encryption at cable TV headend, thus not giving them the advantage of reaching the consumers freely. i) Broadcasters do not follow the ITU (International Telecom Union) guide lines and international norms for broadcast signals accommodating more channels in the same bandwidth to save money, giving poor quality signals to cable operators. Generally 3 mbps (CBR mode) is the minimum required for an MPEG 4 signal and 6 mbps for MPEG 2 to keep up the quality.
j) Using lower bandwidth and compressing more channels in a single transponder to save on costs results in poor video/ audio quality with bleeding red colour, freezing or pixelating of picture and noise spill over for which cable operator or the MSO is blamed.
k)Broadcasters also keep changing satellites because of which operators have to incur more expenses for distribution with additional dish antenna, IRD etc.
l)Broadcasters provide cheap IRDs to the cable headends resulting in poor quality signal, unfit for distribution on a large network. Ordinary IRDs output an analog signal which requires to be digitized again, resulting in generation loss. LCOs are unable to offer quality signals to consumers.
m)The broadcaster switches off the channel subscribed in pre-paid option or shifts the channel to some other bouquet that is not subscribed by the MSO, how can the consumer complaint be settled? It also makes difficult for the LCO to collect subscriptions in such cases.
n)To ensure a quality signal at the headend, TRAI need to define.
•Specifications of the uplinked signal.
•Quality control of the uplinking station, inhouse or outsourced.
•Transponder specifications of the satellite used.
•Specifications of the downlinked signal received at the Cable Headend in terms of bandwidth and EIRP at receiving antenna to be defined.
•That all broadcasters provide professional IRDs to cable operators/ MSOs.
Quality at the MSOs/Independent MSOs end
a) Specification of the broadcast signal at the output of the Cable headend.
b) Specifications of signal quality at the LCO terminal.
c) QoS and Best Practices be defined for complaint redressal so that the LCO does not bear the brunt for no fault of his.
d) MSO must provide redundancy of their good quality signal to the LCOs, so that LCO receive uninterrupted good quality signals 24x7.
e) STBs should be interoperable. It appears this has been deliberately not pursued to help pay broadcasters but the least TRAI can ensure is that as stipulated in the regulations, it can ask why MSOs have not informed the consumers where they can buy the compatible STBs in the open market, which is requirement as the per Cable TV Rules as well as TRAI Quality of Service regulations. If they have not ensured this, they are violating the TRAI Quality of Service regulations as well as Cable TV Rules.
f) BIS standard STB must be supplied by MSOs to the Consumers as given in the Regulations. g) Break in Service. TRAI should impose fine on MSOs if they do not rectify any ‘break in service’ within specified time duration, for example 2 hrs.
h) Mutually agreed arrangement for sharing responsibilities will not work as there is a conflict of interest. Both MSO and his LCOs are competitors at the last mile. Even LCOs revenue share depends on the MSO. LCO will always be the one blamed for everything going wrong with the quality at consumer end.
Responsibilities must be clearly demarcated
For example, MSO should be responsible for the back-haul and LCO for the last mile network. TRAI should recommend to the Ministry and the Parliament to amend the Cable TV Rules where an MSO is defined. In case of a consumer complaint, MSO must rectify the fault till LCO control room and give a certificate. LCO will be then responsible for correcting the fault further. Otherwise, MSOs will focus more on capturing the last mile from LCOs than provide Quality of Service to consumers.
Service Level Agreements (SLA)
Regulations must make it mandatory for Broadcasters to sign SLA with every MSO/ Independent MSO and every MSO/ Independent MSO to sign SLA with every LCO. A copy of all these SLAs should be submitted with TRAI.
Compensation/ Incentives for LCOs
An LCO is being made to do many things for the government, broadcasters and MSOs to ensure they all get their revenue from an industry he created with his own resources. Some of his added responsibilities are:-
• Install STBs on behalf of MSO/ Government who has mandated digitization, investing his own resources?
• Collecting subscription share of the MSO and Broadcaster
• Creating awareness in consumers
• Face consumers’ ire for problems/ faults in STBs that have not been purchased/ procured by him, and other network problems created in the Digital Headend of the MSO, which are additional headaches for the LCO.
LCOs must be compensated for the additional services and responsibilities on behalf of the MSO and Broadcaster. Since the system requires the LCO to do the job of a courier, distributing bills, collecting subscriptions and providing printed receipts to consumers and the system is totally different from the analogue, unorganized system, an LCO needs to be compensated with additional revenue from the share of the MSO and the Pay Broadcasters. LCO will require additional manpower and other resources to do this. This system must be implemented at least for five years, till a viable business model emerges for the LCO-MSO relationship and consolidated networks become a reality, making the system enjoy economy of scale. Please remember DTH operators also pay to the installers of their CPE, reseller agent etc. Telecom companies also employ courier companies and collection agencies to collect revenue on commission basis.
No Level Playing Field
Quality of service standards cannot be imposed till the new system gets a stability, which may come within the next five years. For trial purpose, TRAI should start imposing such fines on DTH and IPTV operators first who are existing for more than five years in the market. No Prepaid billing possible as two independent stakeholders involved in Revenue Share
There should be no prepaid billing till the present system evolves into a viable and practical business model. Since all collection is being done by LCO, who is also a stakeholder, based on the billing done by the MSO and his share is also a part of the collections, a pre-paid system may not work out at present. It will be difficult to account if some payment comes to MSO direct and some collected by the LCO. There will always be disputes. This can be tried after five years. Regulations for Consumers
Since cable TV is a highly unorganized industry, consumers also indulge in many illegal and unethical practices due to which LCOs suffer huge losses every month. TRAI must find solution to curb such practices before it plans to impose fines on the LCOs for poor quality.
a) Consumers do not make timely payments.
b) Sometimes consumers refuse to make full payment under some excuse or the other.
c) In many areas of Phase 3 & 4, Defence units, para military services and even PSUs in isolated areas are running their own cable TV networks and have their own collection system. It is not possible to employ TRAI regulations there. They are also not interested in going for DTH services due to security reasons and they want to select their own channels for all the troops.
d) Many defence and para-military units move secretly from one place to another lock stock and barrel and take away the cable network equipment and STBs. How will TRAI resolve such issues that may cause dispute between LCO and MSO for no fault of LCO.
e) Consumers want to exit from a long term discounted deal prematurely will upset the complete accounting system and revenue share.
f) A subscriber requests for a channel whose subscription is under negotiation between MSO and the Broadcaster and since LCO cannot provide immediately, he switches over to another MSO.
g) The subscription agreement of a channel offered under pre-paid scheme expires while the pre-paid scheme is on.
h) The broadcaster increases the price of the channel that is subscribed under a pre-paid option, especially in the long term 180 / 360 days schemes. Financial Disincentives This is no time to levy financial disincentives. By introducing financial disincentive at this stage, TRAI is attempting to do indirectly what it could not have done directly, namely imposition of penalty. It is established law that no Authority can levy penalty “without express authority of law” and granting power to levy penalty/financial disincentive is exclusively legislative function. This position of law has been reiterated by Supreme Court and other High Courts of the country in many cases. Hence, for the next five years, all efforts must be made to consolidate the industry and provide quality services so that consumers are benefitted in every way.