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Drive-in theatres with car stereo synced audio could soon become a reality in India

The regulatory body initiated an open consultation in April on PVR's proposal to provide drive-in theatre services utilising small-range FM broadcasting. However, certain media companies oppose this initiative, and expressed concerns that it could adversely impact smaller FM channels in the region

Published: Jul 20, 2023 03:32:18 PM IST
Updated: Jul 20, 2023 04:05:14 PM IST

Drive-in theatres with car stereo synced audio could soon become a reality in IndiaThe idea behind the application is that a theatre-sized screen may be placed in an open space for viewing the content and a low power FM Transmitter, with a range confined to that space, may be used to broadcast the audio of the content on a certain frequency. Image: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Drive-in theatres with car stereo synced audio could soon become a reality. According to sources familiar with the matter, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is in the final stages of discussions to proceed with low-power, small-range FM radio broadcasting.

This development comes after cinema chain PVR proposed to offer drive-in theatre services utilising such FM broadcasting. However, not everyone is convinced about the feasibility of implementing small-range FM radio broadcasting for this purpose.

TRAI launched an open consultation in April to address the use of low-power, short-range sound broadcasting.

During a meeting with stakeholders on Wednesday, to discuss the feasibility of short-range FM broadcasting, some media owners expressed concerns about the plan.

A representative from a major radio service within one of the country's largest media houses said, "Low-power broadcast can also be used for hyperlocal advertisement, and that might impact the revenue of these small stations."

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Among other things, HT Media Limited, which runs Radio One, had said in its response to the consultation that the possibility of misuse of this medium is high and the same can prove to be a surveillance nightmare.

“The draft consultation is premature and various important aspect surrounding the policy aspect still be deliberated with all interested stakeholders. Independent licenses should not be being granted for auction of low power small range FM radio broadcasting and finally, on order to give boost to FM Radio, the commercial use of low power broadcast should be made part of FM Radio service and these services be routed through existing private FM broadcasters,” said their recommendation.

TRAI received references from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) in March 2022, wherein it mentioned receiving an application from PVR Limited seeking permission to establish a community radio station for commercial purposes.

The application could not go ahead as commercial entities are prohibited from applying for a community radio license, under the policy guidelines for setting up such stations in India.

“The idea behind the application is that a theatre-sized screen may be placed in an open space for viewing the content and a low power FM Transmitter, with a range confined to that space, may be used to broadcast the audio of the content on a certain frequency. The drive-in audience then would be able to tune in to the said frequency in their cars and listen to the content. This would avoid any noise pollution. It is felt that demand for such drive-in theatre services might rise in the future which could generate sizable and steady revenue streams for the Government,” the consultation paper described.

Use of low-power FM Radio for drive-in theatres and other applications is prevalent in several international markets, including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.


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