New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government’s amended licence policy for the direct-to-home (DTH) sector has now provided guidelines to run platform services channels. While the policy has capped the number of such channels on each DTH service and fixed a registration fee for them, it doesn’t specify which entities can ride these channels and the rules for doing so.
The new rules state that these channels will be capped at a maximum of five per cent of the DTH operator’s total carrying capacity. It has also fixed a one-time non refundable registration fee of Rs 10,000 for each platform services channel from DTH operators.
While the policy didn’t state details on which kind of entities can be carried on these channels, the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry told ThePrint that DTH operators would operate their own platform services channels. It said such channels can’t be rented to any entity, adding that the operators would be responsible for content aired on these channels if they violate laws of the land.
Platform services channels are DTH operators-owned exclusives that carry special content for subscribers. These came into prominence after the controversial ‘NaMo TV’ was aired on platform services channels of multiple operators ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 without a broadcast licence.
At the time, the BJP rented such channels to air NaMo TV — which was focused exclusively on the speeches and other activities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior politicians of the ruling party. It went off air soon after the elections.
The Information & Broadcasting (I&B) ministry officials had then said that platform services channels are out of the ambit of broadcasting laws. The DTH guidelines released on 30 December 2020 provide clarity on the status of such channels.
Harit Nagpal, managing director and chief executive of prominent DTH operator Tata Sky, said the platform is grateful to I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar for resolving the long standing impasse on the DTH licence policy, which will provide certainty to the sector.
Asked about a lack of clarity on rules pertaining to who can rent platform services channels, however, Nagpal said it can be “any subscriber of the DTH operator” since platform services are also accessed via the set top box.
ThePrint reached another operator, Dish TV, for a comment on the move, but there was no response until the publishing of this report.
‘Platform services channels continue to be grey area’
A top industry source associated with a television channel told ThePrint that platform services channels were a grey area under the DTH guidelines and the revised rules continue to keep them so.
Speaking about the content ambiguity, a second industry source said, “Can a movie producer who has not arrived at a deal to run his movie on a television channel or on an OTT platform use these platform services channels? What if an entity runs news and current affairs for a certain period on these channels? Can political entities continue to use these channels for their campaigns? A lot remains unanswered in the new guidelines.”
The second source highlighted that at present the content aired on 900 satellite channels is closely monitored by the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre under the I&B ministry for any violations.
“While the platform services channels associated with the bigger DTH players will be known, what are the ways to check if an MSO (multiple system operator) starts running news through such a channel? How will it be monitored?” the source asked.
The source added that the new guidelines were brought in so that the linear broadcasting stays relevant in the backdrop of proliferating OTT platforms.
Among other changes made to the policy for ease of doing business, it said licences will be awarded for 20 years instead of 10 and could be renewed after a decade.
The guidelines also said the licence fee will be collected quarterly instead of annually, and the 49 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) cap in the DTH guidelines will be aligned with the extant Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) policy on FDl as amended from time to time.
The policy moves
In January last year, the I&B ministry had come up with a draft Cable TV Networks Regulation Amendment Bill, 2020, where it had, for the first time, looked to include platform services under television regulation.
The ministry had also sought recommendations from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on issues regarding such channels.
Stating that some DTH operators have anywhere between 20 and 43 platform services channels, TRAI had recommended that the total number of permitted platform services channels for each operator shall be capped to 3 per cent of the total channel carrying capacity and subject to a maximum of 15 such channels.
It also suggested that the programme transmitted by the DTH operator as a platform service shall be exclusive to the operator. But the new rules are silent on this recommendation.
As of now, the broadcasting laws make it mandatory for any TV channel to obtain a security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs to be aired in India.