In its consultation paper Trai addressed three key points including the bundling of channels under bouquets, rampant discounting within bouquets, and the lack of consumer choice.
Lifestyle, travel and niche television broadcasters face an uncertain future with the sector regulator looking to rein in channel bouquets.
In its consultation paper released last week, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) addressed three key points including the bundling of channels under bouquets, rampant discounting within bouquets, and the lack of consumer choice.
Specifically, it proposed two measures to tackle the issue.
One was to re-introduce a cap on discounts within bouquets and the second was scrutiny of the ceiling price, currently fixed at Rs 19 per channel.
While broadcasters said Trai had adhered to the cap on the channel price when it came to popular names in general entertainment, sports and movies, smaller channels were arbitrarily priced.
The sheer number of bouquets, the regulator said, was also confusing to consumers, which was against the spirit of transparency and free choice.
Experts, however, argue that discouraging the concept of channel bouquets could be detrimental to small broadcasters who depend on these platforms for reach.
“Typically, consumers prefer the popular channels,” said Girish Menon, partner and head, media and entertainment, KPMG India.
“Bouquets allow large as well as independent broadcasters to bundle those channels that are not in the consideration set of consumers along with popular channels.
"This is a worldwide practice and India is no exception."
But consumer activists argue that bundling of channels has not only resulted in inflated bills, but also left viewers with fewer channels of their choice.
“Why should consumers navigate through a bouquet that has channels they do not wish to see?” said BejonMisra, consumer affairs expert and founder, Consumer Online Foundation.
“The last few months, since the Trai tariff order was introduced, have been chaotic for consumers,” said Misra.
“In many places, for instance, cable operators are only offering bouquets that are pre-fixed in terms of price.
"There is no concept of pick-and-choose as indicated by the new tariff order.
"This in my view defeats the purpose of the tariff order and a review of the system is needed.”
But some broadcasters said smaller players may have to fold up if Trai goes ahead with its consultation paper in its current form.
Some others say that smaller players may to reinvent their business models to survive.
“Smaller broadcasters may have to simply become content providers, who are agnostic to a platform,” says the chief executive officer of a travel and lifestyle channel.
“At a time when niche channels in general have faced significant threat from over-the-top platforms, this is one way in which we could survive in the future,” he says.
On Friday, the Indian Broad-casting Federation, an apex body of broadcasters, said Trai’s consultation paper was premature and any intervention by the regulator at this stage could impact the industry negatively.
“The new tariff order allows broadcasters and distribution platform operators to offer channels both ala carte and in bouquets.
"The basic tier, in fact, mandated by the tariff order, which is of 100 free-to-air channels for Rs 130, is a bouquet offering.
"Thus, the impression that broadcasters are gaming the system to push bouquets is incorrect,” it said.
Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters