The media industry breathed a sigh of relief seeing the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India not explicitly batting for convergence in regulations for linear TV broadcasters and streaming firms. However, industry insiders noted that TRAI has done very little to relieve the broadcasting industry and level the playing field with OTT firms. 

TRAI released its recommendations for the NBP on Thursday and in its recommendation it deferred explicitly commenting on the matter of regulating streaming companies or OTT firms like Netflix and Amazon. Given that the definition of broadcasting services is currently in legislation, under the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) or the BSR bill which is at the drafting stage with the I&B Ministry. TRAI indicated that given that the Broadcasting Bill is already considering a recommendation, they will not provide any policy recommendation for the definition of broadcasting. 

‘Technology-neutral approach’

In that paradigm, no explicit definitions have come through for streaming firms, TRAI only hinted at the convergence of regulations for streaming companies and broadcasting firms on the horizon.  The regulator said that a technology-neutral approach will encourage healthy competition in the media space, and it recommended a BARC-like audience measuring body for the streaming sector. Instead of recommendations on regulating OTTs through licence fee or tariff regulations, TRAI deemed that the broadcasting industry should be given infrastructure status to draw funds into the sector. 

One senior executive for a top linear broadcaster told businessline, “It is good that the TRAI has pointed to the I&B ministry on regulating OTTs, since the matter is being legislated under BSR. But their recommendations to rescue the broadcasting industry are ancillary at best. They have not addressed the issue of forbearance, particularly as it relates to tariffs which were sought by the broadcasting industry. It is matters like these and the licence fee that forces broadcasters to cut down costs on production, giving way for streaming firms to outperform and flourish. The content creation market, which is targeted by the regulator’s recommendations is dynamic and thriving. It is laws around censorship and low profits for broadcasters that impede content creation. Infrastructure status, or special economic zones for production will make the survival of broadcasters even more dependent on the State’s benevolence, which isn’t good for freedom of expression in the long run.” 

Vivan Sharan, Partner at Koan Advisory added: “It is good that the TRAI kept away from regulatory convergence especially as the BSR bill is still establishing whether OTT services will be regulated similarly as TV. Conversely, TRAI has made certain unnecessary forays into the OTT space such as recommending a framework for disclosure of viewership data. This is also not within the scope of reference made by the MIB to the telecom regulator.”

Karan Tuarani of Elara Capital said, “There must be forbearance, particularly in the tariff structure, especially because the average revenue per user for the TV industry has remained as it is for the last 4-5 years.”

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