By: Khurram Fayyaz
The Dire State of Cable Distribution: Challenges and Stakeholder Inaction We have witnessed firsthand the deteriorating state of the market over the past four to five years. What was once a decent landscape, with manageable relationships and a few troublesome cable operators charging excessive fees, has now transformed into a complex web of problems.
The emergence of channel owners directly or indirectly involved in cable distribution, along with the involvement of unlicensed contractors purchasing frequencies, has disrupted the industry. Amid this chaos, the lack of monitoring and regulation from key stakeholders has compounded the challenges faced by broadcasters.
Changing Dynamics and Unlicensed Contractors: The shifting dynamics in the industry have given rise to a troubling trend: contractors without licenses have begun acquiring frequencies within cable networks. These individuals operate by offering channel owners the opportunity to air their content on these networks, but only in exchange for monthly or yearly payments.
While this may seem like a straightforward business model, the issue lies in the lack of guarantee for channel placement and the absence of monitoring by the channel owners themselves. Consequently, the average reach and penetration of channels remain unaccounted for, and the number of networks is often exaggerated to justify inflated costs. The limitations of Analog systems further exacerbate these challenges.
PEMRA’s Role and Limited Space: The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) plays a crucial role in granting licenses, yet there appears to be a lack of understanding regarding the limited space available for channels on cable networks.
With a maximum capacity of 70 to 80 channels, PEMRA’s decision to grant licenses to over 120 or more channels seems perplexing. Additionally, there are no regulations in place to ensure that cable operators carry channels with landing rights. The question arises: who should bear the blame for this oversight, and why has the issue not been adequately addressed? Unfortunately, those who dare to raise these concerns risk the non-airing of their channels, stifling any meaningful discussion.
The Inertia of Stakeholders: Amidst this troubling state of affairs, the lack of action from key stakeholders is disheartening. Channel owners, who have resorted to employing contractors for distribution, seem content with the illusion that their problems are solved while overlooking the absence of placement guarantees.
The role of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) is also a cause for concern, as their inaction and silence contribute to the worsening situation. The pressing question remains: what is holding them back from addressing these critical issues? Meanwhile, PEMRA’s limited intervention further compounds the challenges faced by broadcasters, leaving the industry in a state of disarray.
Conclusion: The current state of distribution in the Pakistani television industry is alarming. The involvement of unlicensed contractors, lack of monitoring, and absence of regulation regarding channel carriage have created an environment where channels are at the mercy of opportunistic stakeholders.
The apathy displayed by key players, including channel owners, PBA, and PEMRA, only serves to exacerbate the situation. All stakeholders must acknowledge the gravity of these challenges and take immediate action to ensure fair and transparent distribution practices. Failure to address these issues not only threatens the viability of channels but also undermines the growth and sustainability of the entire industry.