To standardise and ensure uniformity throughout the country, the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) approved a total of 56 television channels for distribution.
Director General of BICMA Chencho Dorji said when BICMA compiled a list of television channels from all dzongkhags and thromdes, there was a lot of variation in the number and type of channels cable operators provided.
It was found that while some dzongkhags provided as many as 80 channels, some provided only 15. “All dzongkhags had different channels, the ones in Paro were not in Dagana and the ones in Dagana were not in Samdrupjongkhar. One rule should be applicable to everybody.”
After the compilation of the list, the total number of channels came to be 147 excluding the BBS channels.
A survey on television channel preference was also done in Thimphu last year among more than 400 respondents.
The survey assessed the quality of service and channel preference in Thimphu. Respondents were categorised according to their occupation including the armed forces, civil servants, housewives, business community, private, students, unemployed and religious personnel on channel preference for news, entertainment, sports and educational channels.
The survey found that 30 percent of the respondents recommended the removal of channels such as Manorama news, Star Chinese, Lotus Macau, Shakti TV, and Zee Punjabi. The respondents said these channels could be removed, as they cannot understand them. All the preferred channels listed during the survey were included in the list of approved 56 channels.
Chencho Dorji said that standardising the channels would also make the system more transparent as currently, subscribers from different dzongkhags do not get the same number of channels although they pay the same amount. “Even if they put all the unnecessary channel and make it into 20 channels no one can say anything, but now they cannot. They have to supply from the list. This will make it more transparent and consistent.”
BICMA also did a consultative meeting with the members of Association for Bhutan Cable Operators (ABCO) during the eight annual ABCO general meeting on May 23. A total of 63 of the 73 ABCO members from across the country attended the meeting.
The general secretary of ABCO, Sherub Gyeltshen, said that some operators argued on the need to have more Hindi news channels during the meeting. The operators proposed having Zee News, DD, NDTV 24X7, a local Indian sports channel and Life Ok. Except for Life Ok which was removed based on its negative content, all others were approved making the list to 56 channels excluding BBS.
Out of 56 channels, seven are news channels, five educational, 16 sports, 18 entertainment, four children, five mixed and one religious or spiritual channel.
He said the four children channels were selected from those available in the market with higher percentage of English language. Those channels which are more than 90 percent in Tamil or Hindi have been removed from the list. “Cartoon Network and Pogo are 80 percent English, and all of Disney Jr and Nick Jr is in English.”
Sherub Gyeltshen said the reason for there being diverse types and number of channels was because of competition among cable operators and with the illegal Direct to Home (DTH) or satellite broadcasting.
He said illegal DTH is not only a loss to the government but is disadvantageous and unfair to the licensed taxpaying operators.
According to BICMA less than five percent of the people are using DTH.
Sherub Gyeltshen said that during the meeting, BICMA justified that the initiative is not to give too many channels that are not watched by the viewers. “We should at least be able to give good, selected channels so that our people watch quality content, news, entertainment, infotainment, and sports rather than watching channels which are of no relevance to us.”
He said most cable operators agreed to BICMA’s initiative, because they felt that 56 channels were enough. “Only few countries’ cable operators provide such a huge number of channels to the subscribers.”
Sherub Gyeltshen said that approval of the 56 channels is an advantage for the operators in big cities such as Thimphu and Phuentsholing as costing and maintenance would be minimized.
He said that in the beginning some smaller operators were worried and confused as they thought that all the operators had to provide all 56 channels.
Chencho Dorji clarified that not all operators would be able to provide all 56 channels. Hence, the operators can choose how many and which channels to provide based on the number of subscribers.
The maximum channels an operator can provide are 56 and the minimum is 11.
Chencho Dorji said that the 56 channels are not the final limit and that there is a provision to add new channels. “If in future good channels appear and have to be added, people can put it to BICMA. We will review the content and if the content is good and healthy for our people, we will introduce it.”
Sherub Gyeltshen they can also suggest the removal of certain channels. “We will look at the content value because once you put it in, it will be difficult to remove.”
Currently there are about 50,000 cable television subscribers in the country.