On the face of it, India’s television industry is one of the most vibrant, competitive and innovative ones in the world. With close to 200 million TV households served by 866 private TV channels, six direct-to-home (DTH) platforms and tens of thousands of independent cable TV operators, it’s quite breathtaking in size. In terms of revenue too, it brought in Rs 66,000 crore ($9.1 billion) in 2017, which is expected to hit Rs 86,200 crore ($12 billion) in 2018.

But scratch the surface, and you realise much of it is just a veneer painted over an outdated, opaque and shady structure. Consumers still don’t have any real and meaningful choice about what channels they want to subscribe to. TV channels need to pay cable and satellite operators extortionate fees (called carriage fees) in order to get carried by them. And every now and then there’s a who-blinks-first standoff between different sides around the pricing of channels, often ending in channel blackouts.

Almost all of these ills can be traced back to a dark void that exists at the centre of the industry—subscribers don’t have a real say.

Meanwhile the “subscription era”—a direct relationship between producers and customers—has dawned over other entertainment platforms, both globally and in India. Such as Netflix, Spotify, Hotstar, and Gaana.

India’s TV broadcasting industry, however, has been running on its hamster wheel with the same age-old rules of TV channel pricing, packaging and distribution.

But someone has finally had enough. India’s telecom and broadcasting regulator, Trai, which has spent the last two years trying to drag the industry into the present, kicking and screaming. And after years of being stymied in courts, it will finally have its way.

The tariff order that could

Last month, India’s Supreme Court finally paved the way for the implementation of far-reaching Trai regulations that are couched in their typical soporific fashion as “tariff and interconnection orders.” The Supreme Court came into the picture due to a plea brought against Trai by leading TV broadcaster Star India. Star has been fighting Trai’s regulation tooth-and-nail since 2016.

Star India’s opposition becomes clear as soon as you understand the biggest changes proposed by Trai. 

“This is a complete rewriting of the regulatory framework in the broadcasting sector. It’s a clean slate.”

RS Sharma, chairman, Trai.

  • All broadcasters will now need to declare “maximum retail price” (MRP) for their channels, whether sold individually or as part of bundles, the way products sold in the real world need to. Distributors cannot charge customers a higher MRP than what is offered by broadcasters.
  • Bundles cannot contain both standard and high-definition versions of the same channels; premium channels or free-to-air channels cannot be part of the bundle.


Harveen Ahluwalia

In her last assignment, Harveen was at Mint, the business daily published by HT Media. At Mint, where she spent about two years, she wrote stories on retail, food and the media business. Harveen is a B.Com (H) graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. She has a diploma in journalism from the Times School of Journalism. Like many folks at The Ken, Harveen talks and tweets a lot. When she isn’t writing or reading, she likes to sketch and doodle. She can be reached at harveen at the-ken dot com.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at support@the-ken.com detailing the error or queries.