As the union government’s directive to private channels to shift from foreign to Indian satellites begins to kick into effect, the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) and the department of space (DOS) will prepare an action plan for those channels that beam content overseas so that their footprint abroad is not curtailed by the move, people aware of the development said.
According to an official, the MIB has received representations from the broadcasting industry that moving from foreign to Indian satellites could impact the broadcast of their programmes abroad and in some cases also result in breach of contract, given that some channels have signed long-term agreements with the overseas companies.
“There are many channels that air their programmes in African countries and the Middle East; they may not be able to beam their signals if they shift to Indian satellites. So a joint action plan (by MIB and DOS) will be prepared on how to roll out the transfer from foreign satellites to Indian ones smoothly over the course of the next 10 years,” the official cited above said on condition of anonymity. Private channels will be given details of Indian satellites such as their capacity and reach so that they can make an informed choice. So far, the government has not set any deadline for the channels to make the switch.
“While the idea is to shift all operations to Indian satellites, in case of specific difficulties they may be permitted to use the foreign satellites. By and large, small and regional channels want to shift to Indian satellites since it is cheaper and saves them the hassle of having to deal with foreign remittances, as the foreign companies have to be paid in their currency,” the official quoted above said.
Relaxation of three years
This year in June, Indian television channels operating from foreign satellites are likely to get relaxation of three years for shifting their operations to an Indian satellite. The Narendra Modi government proposes to ease its directive asking private television channels to shift from foreign satellites to Indian satellites to continue their operations in the country.
Earlier this year, the union government announced that private television channels would have to switch to Indian satellite platforms for security reasons. Consequently, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was asked to improve its transponder strength so that the switch could take place in phases. A top executive at a leading news channel said on condition of anonymity that his company had entered long-term contracts (5-10 years) with international transponders (on foreign satellites) that have a wider footprint than existing Indian satellites.
“The shift will impact subscription revenue accrued in international markets,” said the person, without sharing specific details. “Moreover, if the transfer were to take place, even set-top boxes will have to be reworked. So, if the government plans to implement this, they should do it in a phased manner.”
Sources stated that the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has written to the information and broadcasting ministry seeking easing of norms for broadcasting companies that have long term contracts with foreign satellite operators. Sources stated that the Isro has suggested the I&B ministry should accord satellite clearance for a period of three years to companies which have long-term contracts with foreign satellite operators. The letter came after the Prime Minister’s Office is learnt to have directed the Isro to look into the matter after repeated demands by the industry.
This newspaper had first reported on April 8 that private television channels may soon have to shift from foreign satellites to Indian satellites and the government intends to offer “incentives” to broadcasters for this move. The department of space and I&B ministry had earlier unsuccessfully tried to persuade broadcasters to shift their operations to Indian satellite platforms due to security concerns.
It is learnt that this move comes as the department of space and Isro reviewed their transponder capacities to cater to the needs of the Indian broadcasting sector. It was felt that Isro should improve its transponder strength and then ask the Indian broadcasters to move their channels from foreign satellites to Indian satellites in a phase wise manner. A review also found that Isro would not be able to meet the technical requirements of the broadcasters which also include the footprint and do not have disaster requirement plan in case of technical/power failures hit their transponders, sources stated.
Isro has formed a committee to reach out to the broadcasters to undertake consultation and understand the end-user requirements. Currently, about 80 per cent of all Indian broadcasters are operating on foreign satellites. Out of 725 active channels, only about 150 are on Indian satellites. It is learnt that as per a review of the policy on broadcasting permissions the government wants more channels to operate through Indian satellite platforms after repeated concerns were expressed about the security aspects of channels operating from foreign satellite platforms.