We need a separate regulator for broadcast: IBF president K Madhavan

K Madhavan, President, Indian Broadcasting Foundation, and MD, Star and Disney India
Last week, the board of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) elected Star and Disney India Managing Director K Madhavan as its new president. He succeeds N P Singh, India MD and CEO, Sony Pictures Networks. Vanita Kohli-Khandekar spoke to Madhavan on the IBF’s priorities in a post-pandemic world. Edited excerpts

What is your assessment of the industry currently?

When you look at the industry in the post-pandemic world, there are some good things that have emerged, and some bad. Viewership has increased 25-30 per cent on both entertainment and news. That has been the best thing to happen during this time. The Indian Premier League (IPL), despite all the issues with putting it together live, has seen a 30 per cent viewership rise. The sector performed the important role of keeping the audiences engaged, while they were homebound. Broadcasters also supported cine artistes during these challenging times when production was at a standstill. So the industry has re-invented itself.

The bad things: The instability in the regulatory space. Globally, two-third of broadcasting revenues come from pay and one-third from advertising. In India, it is reverse. We (Star) bid Rs 16,347 for the IPL based on certain assumptions. But after that, the goal post changed (with pricing controls coming in with the new tariff order, or NTO). This is peculiar to India.  

However, if I go beyond the gloomy bits, Indian broadcasting is among the largest in the world. And there are still approximately 100 million homes without TV. The growth of Doordarshan on the back of mythological shows during the lockdown showed that if you get the right content, you get the viewer. Broadcasting is projected to grow to Rs 882 billion (from Rs 787 billion) by 2022, and we want to exceed those expectations. But to do that, there are certain prerequisites. Support from policymakers and regulators is critical.

What are your top five priorities as the new IBF president?

Three key players are needed for the broadcasting industry’s growth: Broadcasters, policymakers and regulators. Our first priority is to get all of them together to create an atmosphere conducive to the growth of broadcasting. The idea is to meet the growth projections but the NTO 2 is not conducive to growth.

The second is trying to exceed expectations on growth.

Third, a long-standing request on the granting of infrastructure status to broadcasting. This will bring cost side benefits and help formalise the business. Getting loans for day-to-day business, and investment into content, require capital. While big broadcasters are able to get loans, the small ones don’t. This will help small broadcasters.

Fourth, a revision of the GST (goods and services tax). This will facilitate growth. Let the business increase first. The broadcast industry provides employment to 4-5 million people, directly and indirectly.

Fifth, push for policies that facilitate growth.

Why hasn’t the IBF been able to convey its point of view to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), especially on bundling, pricing and so on?

The first question you have to ask yourself is: Is TRAI the right regulator for broadcasting?

We need a separate regulator for broadcast. IBF always believes in dialogue with both MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) and TRAI. It has tried to convey its point of view to TRAI. Before its implementation, broadcasters had tried to explain to the regulator that NTO 1 may eventually lead to the shutting down of niche channels and increase in consumer prices. We suggested changes. But it was not accepted.

Once it became policy, we started rolling out according to NTO 1. But within 10 months, they changed it again and brought NTO 2. Even then, IBF has tried to explain to TRAI that this will further add to financial viability concerns of many channels and may even reduce the ability to invest in quality content.

There is a notion that only someone from the big five (Disney, Sony, Zee, Viacom18 and Sun) becomes head of IBF; that small and regional broadcasters are not given importance. Your comments.

I do not think there is any reason to have such a feeling. IBF is a board managed organisation that focuses on a participative process, takes inputs from all the participants and keeps industry interest above all.

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