The number of TV households in India is estimated to be around 147 million. The cable industry has grown from 0.4 million cable homes in January 1992 to an estimated 94 million cable TV homes in 2011 with more than 800 registered channels. Of these, around 160 are pay channels. There are a large number of channels which are transmitted as FTA (free-to-air) channels.
Under the new TRAI order, a viewer can opt for a maximum of 100 free-to-air channels for a minimum of Rs 100 that will mandatorily include five channels of each genre, including news, sports, infotainment, music, lifestyle, movies and general entertainment. This will include 18 Doordarshan channels which must be carried.
All channels will have to be made available individually or on an a la carte basis that will ensure viewers will have the choice to take only the channels they want. The existing practice was to club channels in a bouquet that would include one or two general entertainment channels that have a high viewership clubbed with sports, news and English general entertainment channels and niche channels that the viewer may not be keen on.
For pay channels, multisystem operators can fix a minimum monthly subscription that should not exceed Rs 150 per channel. Trai has mandated that the rate of a single channel should not exceed three times the average channel rate of the bouquet. So, if on an average, a channel has been priced at Rs 3 by the cable operator, he cannot charge more than Rs 9 per channel in that bouquet.
The authority has also mandated that MSOs will have to carry at least 200 channels, offering viewers a wider variety than is presently available, and has set a deadline of 2013 for all MSOs to expand to 500 channels.
Industry experts have said that critical measures such as making the “must carry” of all private TV channels mandatory and disallowing carriage fees under digitization would revive the sick TV broadcast industry. Keeping this in view, Trai has ordered that from January 1, 2013, all cable operators must carry Hindi, English and channels in regional language of the area concerned.
Regarding carriage fees, Trai said it will have to be charged in a non-discriminatory and transparent fashion. All channels will be charged uniformly and the multi-system operators will have to file the fees with Trai. There is also a provision mandating that the regulator will intervene if carriage fees is found to be unreasonable.