The Bombay High Court did not issue a stay on the implementation of the amended TV channel tariff order issued by TRAI, but kept the possibility open when it takes up the case again on 22 January 2020.
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Indian Broadcasting Foundation had approached the Bombay High Court seeking an urgent stay on TRAI’s new tariff rules, pointing out that their roll-out will start on 15 January 2020.
However, the court did not give an interim stay on the implementation of the new rules.
With this, all Broadcasters — including IBF members like Zee Entertainment, Star India & Sony will have to publish new prices for their channels on 15 January, 2020. IBF had sought a stay by expressing the fear that if they publish the new rates, Cable & DTH operators can start entering into distribution deals based on the new prices.
The court has also asked TRAI to file its response to the petition submitted by the IBF by 20 January 2020.
The absence of a stay order can be seen as a positive development for TRAI in its attempts to ‘unbundle’ channels sold in the market.
At present, most Subscribers/ TV Viewers are compelled to buy channel packs — instead of picking and choosing the channels they want due to the high cost of individual channels. The standalone price of many popular channels are 100% – 150% higher than the price at which they are available as part of various packages or bouquets.
TRAI’s new rules are intended to bring both prices in line, so that consumers can go for individual channels if they like or channel packs, if they prefer that.
However, big broadcasting companies who operate 50 – 70 channels each — are opposed to the idea of promoting individual channels, as they feel that some of their weaker channels will find no takers in such a scenario, and have taken TRAI to court.
On the other hand, the regulator, consumer organizations and cable operators have taken the opposite position.
They argue that Broadcasters are bundling their popular and non-popular channels closely together, so that anyone who wants to watch a popular channel is forced to buy the broadcasters’ non-popular channels as well.
So according to TRAI and several consumer rights organizations, amounts to forced feeding of channels and comprise non-transparent and anti-competitive behavior.
TRAI has also argued that by doing so, big broadcasters who operate 50 – 60 channels each can effectively soak up most of the carrying capacity of Cable & DTH networks, making it difficult for smaller broadcasters who have only a handful of channels to find a place on these networks.