A Content Regulatory Framework of Thai Pay-TV Under Convergence
15 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 23, 2011
In the age of convergence, major challenges have emerged for content regulation of electronic media. The conventional framework which discriminates between different types of carrier technologies is generally seen as unfitting for the converged platform through which electronic media operate. Media convergence has enabled the same set of content to be broadcast or narrowcast through multi-platform from television to Internet and mobile phone. Pay-TV which is here defined as subscription-based as well as fee-imposing audio-visual services are facing major regulatory test. With its inflexibility and tendency towards control, centralized state regulation is not preferable as while self- and co-regulation (Ang, 2005) are generally perceived to be more applicable to Pay TV which encompasses these attributes - multichannel, conditioned access, and audience segmentation.
Put in the Thai context, broadcast regulation is faced with multiple challenges. Thailand has just succeeded in organizing an independent regulator – National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) by October 2011 after a decade of regulatory vacuum. While mandate for broadcast reform initiated by civil society in the early 1990s did not borne fruits since two selection processes for the so-called National Broadcast Commission (NBC) were nullified by the Supreme Administrative Court, following accusations of conflict of interest. Despite the regulatory vacuum, new spheres of broadcast services have emerged and rapidly expanded. New small and medium-sized entrepreneurs have become potent players in the broadcast scene, which used to be dominated by the state and the military.
Currently, the number of cable and satellite TV households is just about equal to the number of terrestrial TV households. Some industry analysts predict that within 3-5 years, Thailand could be 100 percent antennae-free. By the end of 2010, the number is estimated to have risen further to over 10 million households, for nearly 50% penetration. (CASBAA, 2010) However, encrypted satellite TV has only 5 premium channel while IPTV operators are only a few due to low penetration rate of broadband service. As for mobile TV, there is no availability yet because of waiting for digital switch-over in Thailand.While developing at a fast pace, Pay TV services which include cable TV, encrypted Satellite TV, encrypted Mobile TV and IPTV are still without a proper regulatory framework in Thailand.
Hence, the proposed research, which is a work in progress of my Ph.D. dissertation, will try to map out plausible regulatory models for Pay TV in Thailand and gather input from local stakeholders, before arriving at the preferred model. It will also tease out problems and obstacles facing the sector, focusing on the regulatory front under media convergence. Thus, documentary study and analysis on relevant information is employed.
Preliminary research into existing models for content regulation under media convergence yields three major approaches: Medium Discrimination Approach, was employed in the early stage of TV development. USA and Japan formerly applied this approach.; Technology or Platform Neutrality Approach, used as a basis to regulate all audio-visual media in EU member countries, with varying degrees of success; and Multi Factors Approach, which features an innovative approach combining several regulatory concerns including media influence on public discourse, audience’s ability to condition reception, and media literacy of target audience. (Altshuler, Laor-Drori and Elefant-Loffler (2006)). By considering these 3 model, the study shows that the content regulatory framework of pay-TV should be based on platform neutrality regime, together with 3 factors to differentiate audio-visual media including degree of choice, user control and media literacy of target audience.
Meanwhile, early findings also show that during the years of regulatory vacuum, Thai Pay TV are plagued with the following problems - poor quality program, harmful content to minors, hate speech, political exploitation, and unethical advertisement. Moreover, self-regulatory body of Pay TV is still in its infancy and without viable enforcement of self-regulation based on promulgated body of ethics.
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