Channel distribution companies may come under regulatory body

New Delhi: Companies which specialise in distribution of multiple TV channels and negotiate with multi system operators (MSOs) and local cable operators (LCOs) on behalf of broadcasters may now be brought under a regulatory mechanism.

The I&B ministry has asked TRAI to recommend a mechanism to deal with channel distribution companies, which are known as 'aggregators' and have been accused of monopolistic practices and curbing free play as only a few firms control most of the pay channels.

Though aggregators are playing an important role in the distribution of TV channels, they are not specifically defined either in the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act or in any of the regulations issued by TRAI, a source said.

I&B secretary Uday Kumar Varma has written to TRAI chairman Rahul Khullar, seeking its views on creating a regulatory mechanism for aggregators.

In his letter, Varma has told the TRAI chairman that the Cable TV Network Act envisions that a broadcaster can distribute a channel either itself of through its authorised distribution agencies. He said that the ministry had noticed that the authorised distribution agencies have taken the shape of aggregators.

"These aggregators have emerged as very important entities in the entire broadcasting value chain often working as separate companies or joint venture partners and bundling and distributing signals of various broadcasters as packages/ bouquets," Varma wrote in his letter.

He added that aggregators sign agreements with MSOs in their own name rather than in the name of broadcasters.

"This appears to be a separate business enterprise not falling in the definition of a Broadcaster. Therefore, there is a need to examine whether entity of aggregators/ distribution agencies be brought under a regulatory framework including permission for operation, terms and conditions of modes operandi etc," Varma wrote.

When contacted, Varma told PTI that he had written to the TRAI chairman regarding the creation of a regulatory framework for aggregators.

"The issue of content regulators and the need to look at their functioning and framework in which they operate needs to be examined," Varma said.

"We have referred the matter to TRAI to examine the whole matter and suggest if there is a need for regulating the growing breed of aggregators. And if yes, what it should be," he added.