nto: Broadcasters resume signals to MSOs as the deadlock over NTO 3.0 ends


Cable TV customers can heave a sigh of relief as the stand-off between All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF) affiliated multi-system operators (MSOs) and broadcasters ended on Thursday. The signal blackout by the broadcasters impacted an estimated 30-40 million cable TV homes.

Disney Star, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), and Culver Max Entertainment (Sony), who are members of the Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF), have activated the signals of their channels to Hathway Digital, DEN Networks, GTPL, Fastway Transmission, and NXT Digital (Hinduja Global Solutions) after the MSOs decided to sign agreements as per the new tariff order (NTO) 3.0.

Incidentally, the feud ended on a day when the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India releases its weekly TV ratings. With both broadcasters and MSOs staring at a potential revenue and subscriber loss, the two sides came to an agreement to reduce the damage.

“The channel reach of the three broadcasters has seen a massive drop,” an executive tracking the development told ET. Summing up the precarious situation for both the broadcasters and the MSOs, a senior cable TV executive said, “Advertiser pressure on them and ground pressure (read consumers) on us.”

A senior media planner had told ET that the drop in reach due to the signal blackout is not a concern since the broadcasters will make good any loss in GRP (Gross Rating Point) to the advertisers. GRP is a traditional ad-buying metric that measures the impact of an ad campaign.

“Broadcasters will compensate the advertisers by providing additional inventory to make good for the loss in audience reach,” the media planner said.

“MSOs have agreed to sign the agreements and the broadcasters have restored the signals of the channels,” a Mumbai-based local cable operator (LCO) said, adding that the MSOs have not gained anything from the fight.Even as the two sides have smoked the peace pipe, the Kerala High Court is hearing the NTO 3.0 matter daily. According to sources following the case, the AIDCF, IBDF, TRAI, and a few individual broadcasters have concluded their pleadings.

The Kerala High Court has been adjourning the matter without granting any interim relief to the AIDCF. Both sides have engaged high-profile lawyers like former Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi and Abhishek Manu Singhvi to fight their cases.

It is pertinent to note that a few AIDCF members like UCN Cable and Kerala Communicators Cable Limited (KCCL) have gone ahead and signed the agreements as per the NTO 3.0 since there is no stay on the operation of the regulation. In fact, KCCL is the other litigant in the Kerala HC apart from AIDCF.

The Tamil Nadu government-owned MSO Arasu Cable TV Corporation is also believed to have signed the agreement under the amended regulations.

The three broadcasters had switched off signals of their channels to AIDCF members as the latter had refused to ink content deals as per the NTO 3.0 notified by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

The AIDCF has sought a stay on the NTO 3.0 till the matter is pending in the Kerala HC. The MSO body has argued that the price hike by the broadcasters will lead to subscriber churn. As per market estimates, monthly TV bills will increase by Rs 25-50.

The broadcasters have argued that the price hike is nominal and comes after a three-year embargo on broadcast tariffs due to litigation around NTO 2.0. The IBDF had earlier claimed that over 80% of distribution platforms barring a few AIDCF members have signed deals with broadcasters.

After issuing disconnection notices on February 15, the broadcasters disconnected the TV channel signals on February 17. The AIDCF filed an application on February 16 within the main petition seeking relief from any adverse action by the broadcasters.

Incidentally, IndiaCast Media Distribution, the content monetisation arm of TV18 and Viacom18, has broken ranks with the IBDF as it has not switched off the signals of its channels. Likewise, Essel Group-backed Siti Networks didn’t toe the official AIDCF line by going ahead and signing fresh agreements with the broadcasters.



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