Mayank, Distribution Head,News Nation Network Pvt. Ltd.

Recently, there has been a protest by some broadcasters against the usage of multiple LCNs. As there are no guidelines by any regulator, broadcasters use multiple LCNs to increase their ratings/viewership.

In the current scenario, some broadcasters have boycotted the rating agency but the agency hits back by saying it is not its job to sort out issues like usage of multiple LCNs by TV channels with an aim to increase viewership. Now what next – will all the other broadcasters go with multiple LCNs (which will have a direct impact on the carriage cost) or the government will pass any regulations in this regard?

Now the question is whether the usage of multiple LCNs is ethical or not. In my view, it is not because indirectly we are forcing the viewers to view a particular channel, which is not good for anybody. There are only 100 LCNs in analog and approximately 350 in digital. If we go with multiple LCNs, there would be a repetition of the channels which will restrict the viewer's demand for watching other channels. To a great extent, multiple LCNs are used by many broadcasters across the industry, whether the broadcaster does it or it happens on the ground by the MSOs to fill their blank slots.

On the other hand, it is true that dual LCNs will definitely help in boosting the ratings as there is a higher availability rate of the channel. If a broadcaster can bear the carriage fees to get the dual LCNs, what is wrong with it? It is simple – like if a person has a chain of multiple shops, he will get the maximum customers but if a person is having only one shop he will only get the selected customers. Right now we cannot say it is ethical or not, as this should be decided only by the government, who needs to come with some regulations in this regard as soon as possible, otherwise dual LCNs will come into practice as a marketing strategy and the demand-and-supply gap will further increase. There are many tele-shopping channels that are using dual LCNs as a marketing plan to get the higher rate of viewers.

As we are moving toward the digitized world, dual LCNs can become a practice very easily as there is no restriction on bandwidth at MSO level, so it is good for DPOs to place the channel on multiple LCNs and get the higher placement charges or carriage fees. That too will have an impact on the tariff fees proposed by TRAI as what will be the charges if a news channel will be placed in GEC genre? What tariff will be applicable on that channel, will it be considered in the GEC rate card or in the news channels rate card? There are a lot of things, which can be settled only by some regulations from the government.

Recently TRAI has warned multi-system operators (MSOs) that it would take action if the regulation on this was violated. Terming the placing of TV channels on multiple LCNs by MSOs as material non-compliance, TRAI has advised all MSOs to comply with regulations. The Authority has advised all MSOs to strictly comply with the extant regulatory framework in letter as well as in spirit, failing which action shall be taken against such operators as envisaged in terms of the provisions of TRAI Act, 1997. According to TRAI, the regulation mandates that MSOs place a channel in the genre declared by the broadcaster of that channel. MSOs are required to ensure that all the channels falling in a particular genre appear in their networks' EPG under that genre. With this, the subscriber would be able to see the list of channels that are available genre-wise. This would make the services more consumer-friendly, TRAI said. The regulator noted that several MSOs providing cable TV services are placing some channels at more than one LCN under multiple genres simultaneously. The authority views this practice as a material non-compliance of the extant regulatory framework prescribed by it. Therefore, it has advised all MSOs to strictly comply with the regulation.

As per the regulation, every broadcaster is required to declare the genre of its channel. The recognized genres are News and Current Affairs, Infotainment, Sports, Kids, Music, Lifestyle, Movies, Religious or Devotional, General Entertainment (Hindi), General Entertainment (English), and General Entertainment (regional language).