The Kerala High Court will hear an urgent matter on Monday pressed by the All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) against broadcasters Disney Star, Sony, and Zee to restore signals disconnected by them since Saturday. The move by the broadcasters came following disconnection notices issued by them to AIDCF members last week.
The AIDCF, for the uninitiated, includes top cable companies such as Hathway, Den, GTPL, all owned by Reliance Industries, NXTDIGITAL, part of Hinduja Group, Asianet Digital Network, owned by Rajan Raheja Group, Kerala Communicators Cable, and UCN Cable Network, both regional cable operators.
The blackout came in the wake of a clash between cable operators and broadcasters over television (TV) channel pricing, following the implementation of a new tariff order (NTO) 3.0 on February 1. While broadcasters say the hike in channel prices is to the extent of 5-15 per cent only, cable operators say the price hike could go up to 60 per cent, depending on the channel and network, which could hurt the domestic cable and satellite market, considered price-sensitive.
A statement by AIDCF on Sunday said that 45 million homes across the country had been deprived of all channels from the Star, Sony, and Zee networks since cable TV platforms had not executed the reference interconnect offer or revised agreement with broadcasters over channel pricing.
Forty-five million homes, according to Karan Taurani, senior vice-president, research, at Mumbai-based brokerage Elara Capital, would constitute 36 per cent of the total 125-million pay TV base in India, which is significant.
“This is a dampener for the TV broadcasting industry, which is struggling due to the shift in consumption to digital,” said Taurani.
“Eventually some of the cable and satellite consumers will migrate to direct-to-home (DTH) if the blackout persists for a longer period. That said, broadcasters, on the other hand, could suffer a hit to ad and subscription revenue to the extent of 25-30 per cent, depending on the number of days the issue drags on,” he added.
It may be recalled that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which is the regulator for both the telecommunication and broadcast sectors, had amended NTO 2.0 (now called NTO 3.0) in November 2022, restoring the price cap for a TV channel, which is part of a bouquet from Rs 12 to Rs 19.
“Indications are that the proposed increase in prices by broadcasters would be exorbitant. This is even though during NT0 1.0, implemented in the calendar year 2019, broadcasters had increased the prices of some of their channels by 400 per cent. This steep increase is being fought by AIDCF in court, along with a legal effort to get the channels restored at the prevailing prices for the benefit of consumers,” said AIDCF in a statement.
Countering the cable operators association, the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF), which includes the country’s top broadcasters, said that TV channels had taken a price increase four years after the release of new NTO guidelines by Trai.
“Most DTH and cable operators have already started implementing the new prices and they have had to increase consumer prices by approximately 5 per cent only after four years,” said IBDF Secretary-General Siddharth Jain.
“Some cable operators did not sign fresh agreements, thus forcing broadcasters to disconnect their services after serving notice to them,” he observed.