By Nava Thakuria
In the time of internet where consumers become habituate with various
free internet proving services, the news itself becomes the victim of
circumstance as few people prefer to pay for a news channel? The
increasing number of free-to-air (FTA) television channels has
fulfilled the demand for millions of news consumers. But slowly the
FTA is also losing its market space with the invasion of internet
television across the globe. As satellite news channels in various regional languages are booming
in India, questions relating to their consistency and sustainability
also become pressing. With a population of over one billion, India
today supports more than 800 satellite television media outlets, half
of them are news & current affairs channels and most of them face the
crisis of credibility.
According to the Union information & broadcasting ministry in New
Delhi, over 410 privately owned Indian news channels survive today
telecasting news and news-related contents in various languages
including English. Most of them are registered as FTA media outlets,
but even though the news-broadcasting industry in India is a rupees 20
billion worth business (65 rupees = 1 USD).
As these news channels carry the FTA tag, they are not entitled to ask
money from the viewers. This implies that the news and other
programmes, which are produced and telecast by these channels, mean
for free consumption to the audience. The consumers have to pay only
to the distributors either the cable transmission agencies or the
direct to home (DTH) operators.
The operating cost of these FTA news channels are seemingly managed
from the advertisement revenues. Indirectly it means, not the viewers
but the advertisers always enjoy a say (influence) in the content of
the news channels irrespective of its merit and authenticity. So it is
well-taken that totally dependent as they are on advertisement
revenue, it is difficult to imagine how the television channels can
pursue ethical, credible and impartial journalism.
The northeast India with a population of over 60 million today hosts
five privately owned satellite news channels namely News Live, DY365,
Pratidin Time, Prag News and Assam Talks with a few entertainment and
localized cable news channels. These channels, none is paid or payable
in nature, beam news & other programmes mostly in Assamese, English,
Hindi and other regional languages.
The owners of Guwahati-based FTA television channels are unanimous in
claiming that they have to pay around rupees 20 million, which is
one-fifth of their annual expenditure, to cable network agencies every
year for facilitating distribution of their programmes to the viewers.
Similarly the privately owned DTH service providers also ask for
similar amount of money from these news channels for providing space
into their packages. It means the channel owners are overburdened with
expenditures from production to distribution.
But the cable television operators’™ association in Guwahati argues
that they have legitimate right to receive money from the channel
owners as ‘˜carriage fee’™ every year. They even claimed that the
carriage fee is lawful under the guidelines of the Telecom Regulatory
Authority of India and the Indian Union information & broadcasting
The cable television operators’™ association also pointed out that they
were running the business with lot of market risk & troubles. They
also expressed displeasure over the directive of Assam Power
Distribution Company Limited to charge money regularly from the cable
agencies against the use of electric poles on roadside laying their
wires to the subscribers across the State.
On the other hand, there is no clarity on how much money a private DTH
operator in India ask from the FTA channels. However, it is for sure
that those service providers namely Dish TV, Tata Sky, Airtel Digital
TV, Videocon D2H, Sun Direct, Reliance Digital TV and BIG TV always
select a bunch of channels with the motive of financial benefit only.
They hardly consider the commitment of those television channels to
Today, the DTH operators in India tap over 40 million active
subscribers and the number is increasing every month. With quality
transmission, the DTH operators have empowered the subscribers to
select their packages (unlike depending on the mercy of cable
operators in case of cable connection) and also the broadcasters to
know the exact number of subscribers across the country, where as the
cable operators show lower number of subscribers to siphon a huge
amount of subscription money.
In India, the private DTH services have already completed a decade,
where Dish TV got the license from the Union government in 2003 to
operate in the country. Initially concentrated on the rural market of
India, where the cable operators are not visible even today, soon the
DTH operator encroached into the city and metros.
By 2006, Tata Sky had joined in the competition with high quality
signal and a kind of choice for the subscribers to select their
package of channels. The rest of the DTH operators had stepped into
the business in and after 2008 to give a huge boost to the Indian
television distribution market.
Days back, Electronic Media Forum Assam (EMFA) and Journalists’ Forum
Assam (JFA) raised voices for reforming the distribution system of
local news channels. In a recent memorandum to the Union information &
broadcasting ministry, both the organizations argued that the monetary
transaction between the channel owners and the cable network operators
as well as the private DTH authorities should be made accountable
under the country’™s income tax laws.
When a FTA news channel has to spend for everything including the
production and also distribution of its news (plus other programmes)
to the subscribers without claiming even a rupee, the entire
expenditure has to be compensated from the advertisements and then the
commitment of them to the viewers can always be at stake.
Now is it time to have few payable news channels in various regional
languages, such that they can survive with the contributions from the
subscribers? With a transparent and dedicated management, these news
channels might function without the diktats of advertisers as well as
the whims of the distributors, as the conscious and esteemed viewers
would ultimately prevail over them for transforming them into credible
& pro-people media outlets.
By Nava Thakuria