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NEW DELHI : Television broadcasters, film producers and government officials were unanimous in their opinion that the media and entertainment industry, that has long served as a means of soft power for the country and faced immense disruption over the past year-and-a-half of the pandemic, should be regulated with a light-touch approach.

The industry stakeholders were speaking at the 10th edition of the Big Picture Summit organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on Wednesday.

“Given the power and influence of our industry, it is essential that we be allowed to freely flourish with the power to self-regulate. Self-regulatory bodies for both TV and digital are working extremely well in India, and have proved that they can effectively handle complaints and concerns, without any interference from policymakers and regulators," K. Madhavan, chairman, CII national committee on media and entertainment and country manager and president, the Walt Disney Company India and Star India said during the inaugural address.

Regulations such as NTO (new tariff order) 1 and 2 did not address the interests of any stakeholder, including customers, Madhavan said, but the fact that the current Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) chairman, P.D. Vaghela and his team are taking keen interest to address the concerns of the industry, is a silver lining. “We hope to have a more proactive and positive approach from the regulator. There needs to be light-touch regulation, so as to not hold the industry back," Madhavan added.

Trai chairman Vaghela, who said television broadcasters had done a great government service by keeping people entertained as they remained home during the pandemic, pointed out that around 46% of the population had taken to watching TV all seven days of the week, at the peak of the lockdown but there was still scope for deeper television penetration. “Trai is committed to ensuring ease of doing business for the telecom and broadcast sector," he said, adding that the regulator is working towards creating time-bound solutions and reforms in policies and hopes Indian consumers can access global offerings such as pay-per-view and pay-per-programme in time.

“Trai’s main motto is to create a level-playing field for all stakeholders...and ensure balance between broadcasters and distribution operators. Transparency in tariffs and service offerings for consumers remain the core objective of Trai, but also unfortunately, slightly controversial. The fact that our tariffs in broadcasting are among the lowest in the world exemplifies that Trai interventions have helped the consumers," Vaghela said. He also referred to the disparity in prices of channels on paid distribution platforms versus DD Free Dish, an issue that he said the regulator was looking into.

Madhavan said another important ask from policymakers is for a single national policy for the media and entertainment sector which is coherent, captures the industry’s aspirations and brings in greater clarity for the industry and regulators, going forward. “With inputs from the industry, this new national policy could guide regulators for years to come, and ensure that consumers, the industry and all stakeholders find certainty and clarity in equal measure. Digital streaming has changed the global consumption pattern, and Indian content can make a serious impact at the global level, provided we get the right support from policymakers and the regulator," Madhavan said.

Ten years ago, there were barely 13 million broadband subscribers, and users spent only eight hours a month watching videos online. In comparison, today, there are about 800 million broadband internet users and 600 million smartphone users, and Indians watch over five hours of online video content a day, compared with the global average of four hours a day, Madhavan said. The industry is creating 2,500 hours of original content each year for OTT platforms, besides the 100,000 hours created for television. The country’s gaming industry caters to 420 million casual gamers.

Apurva Chandra, secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting, agreed the government believed in light-touch regulation and acting as a facilitator. “Many believe the (M&E) sector is highly regulated but we have always been open," Chandra said, referring to the strong growth of digital and OTT platforms, especially during the pandemic.

Siddharth Roy Kapur, co-chairman, CII national committee on media and entertainment, president, Producers Guild of India founder, and managing director, Roy Kapur Films, pointed out that it would help preserve artistic freedom if the government came out with a statement of support for film-makers in light of recent incidents of FIRs and vandalization of sets, by certain groups.

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