Scatmag.com

July 2019

TDSAT CANCELS TRAI'S LANDING PAGE ORDER



In the last week of May 2019, the TDSAT set aside TRAI's order, disallowing the carriage of any channel on the "Landing Page" of a cable TV or DTH STB. The 'Landing Page' is the 1st channel displayed by an STB when it is powered on.

The TDSAT ruled that TRAI did not have the powers under the TRAI Act to issue such a direction.


BACKGROUND

In Dec 2018, the TRAI declared that the landing page should not carry any TV channel whose rating is being measured. The order was to be implemented not later than 31 March 2019.

In fact, TRAI had issued a similar direction on 8th November 2017. That direction was challenged & the TDSAT stayed it, asking TRAI to reconsider the matter.

On 3 April 2019, TRAI issued its consultation paper "Issues related to Placing of Television Channel on Landing Page."

Based on submissions & analysis of data from BARC, TRAI concluded that the landing page influences TV viewership ratings & jeopardises the accuracy and credibility of the TV rating system.

TRAI then issued its order in Dec 2018, prohibiting the carriage of any TV channel on an STB's landing page.



TRAI Does Not have The Authority To Restrict Placements On The Landing Page




REVENUE LOSS

The landing page is a major source of ad revenues for MSOs and DTH platforms. It is similar to an ad on the cover of a newspaper or magazine. The TRAI's restriction meant a significant revenue loss for distributors, who once again challenged the TRAI's order at the TDSAT.

A plea was filed by Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd (BCCL), All India Digital Cable Federation (AIDCF), and JPR Channel (an MSO).






ARGUMENTS

The appellants argued that the TRAI direction is without jurisdiction as they do not relate to interconnection at all. They also argued that any such direction that impacts the rights of all the broadcasters and distributors could be implemented only by a new law or regulation & not by TRAI's directions.

The appellants also pointed out that TRAI's direction ran contrary to the Regulations of 2017 which permit use of landing page. Direction cannot be issued which are contrary to established Regulations, which have been ratified by Parliament.

Further, TRP was a subject ruled by the I&B ministry, and not the concern of Department of Telecommunication or TRAI.

TRAI's counsel Saket Singh stated that the Section 36 of the Act provides TRAI wide powers to frame Regulations, and the direction was within TRAI's jurisdiction. He said that although the Act does not define the word "interconnection," the Regulations of 2017 provide that "Interconnection means commercial and technical arrangements under which service providers connect their equipments and networks to provide broadcasting services to the subscribers."


THE VERDICT

After argument concluded, TDSAT chairperson Justice S K Singh and member AK Bhargava, ruled "In our considered view, the impugned directions are beyond the provisions of the act, which empowers TRAI to issue directions. Therefore, the impugned directions must be set aside on this point alone. We order accordingly."

BARC India has written to its members that the ratings agency will not attempt any action for removal of landing page/dual LCN impact from week 22 onwards.


COURT APPEAL?

TRAI has the option to appeal the TDSAT verdict in the Delhi High Court and the matter could drag on to the Supreme Court.

However, those in the know suggest that the sector regulator may not be keen on taking that route.

Until then, MSOs and DTH platforms can once again offer the landing page to TV channels, to earn much needed revenues. n