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FTA channels seek waiver of carriage fees to Prasar Bharati for Q1 & Q2

A syndicate of Free-to-Air (FTA) broadcasters that have placed their channels placed on Prasar Bharati’s DTH platform DD FreeDish has written to Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar seeking a waiver of 100 per cent Carriage Fees due to Prasar Bharati for the first quarter (April, May and June) and 50 per cent for the second quarter (July, August and September) for channels that have secured MPEG-2 slots on Prasar Bharati’s Free Dish Platform during the recently held 44th E-auction.

In its letter to the Minister, the FTA broadcasters stated that commercial advertisements, which are the sole revenue stream for FTA channels, are likely to see a 70-80 per cent pullback. These ad revenues help support all the costs of Content, Operations, Carriage, Marketing and Transmission of the FTA channels. “We have been struggling to deal with a steep de-growth,” the broadcasters stressed.

The broadcasters pointed out that as early as end of March, they has in their individual capacities reached out to DD Free Dish requesting it to waive off the carriage fees for a quarter (April, May and June) owed by them in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement added, “In response of which we were in receipt of letter dated April 7, 2020, offering a deferred payment schedule in lieu of the waiver of 3 months’ outstanding payments sought for, and that too with a provision for furnishing a bank guarantee (valid up to 31.07.2020) of equivalent amount. Availing the said relief has been subjected to interest levy at 5.7 per cent per annum and GST on the interest amount.”

The broadcasters maintained that the aforesaid relief would not serve the purpose at this juncture, but instead put additional hardships on the companies in terms of bank guarantee charges, interest payments and GST amounts with effectively no relief on the total carriage fee payments.

“In light of the current adverse business environment, our request requires a lot more sympathetic consideration, considering our revenues have been eroded. There are few channels which have been recently launched on 01.04.2020 and they are facing the brunt with no revenues at all,” they implored.

The broadcasters drew the Minister’s attention to the fact that with business coming down to 10-15 per cent of normal monthly business, they would be only in a position to disburse salaries and any more expense burden in the current and coming months would affect their salary paying capacity in such marginalised incomes.

“In line with Government’s vision of making best of entertainment accessible freely to all socio economical class of Indian population through the DD Free Dish platform, all the Free-to-Air channels play a very important role especially for the poorer sections of our society  and thus, it’s commercial viability and sustainability must be taken into consideration,” the broadcasters stressed.

At the same time they appreciated the Government of India’s decision to declare “Electronic Media” as one of the “Essential Services” during the lockdown period.

“We base our request post understanding the time that the entire industry would need for normalcy to return,” the letter concluded.

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