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Doordarshan’s free-to-air channels spark a dish war

Direct to home (DTH) service providers, including Tata Sky, have asked the telecom regulator to level the playing field with public service broadcaster Doordarshan when it comes to offering pay channels.

While DD’s Free Dish DTH service offers several pay channels belonging to top broadcasters such as Sony, Zee, Star India, for free, DTH players charge their customers to pay for the same.

This is happening because broadcasters provide Prasar Bharti-owned DD Free Dish DTH, content in the form of a Free to Air (FTA)service. No fee needs to be paid for an FTA channel by the distributor such as DD Free Dish. This, in turn, allows DD to distribute these channels to subscribers free.

On the other hand, private DTH operators have to pay an MRP (maximum retail price) to the broadcasters to get the right to distribute these channels to subscribers. DTH operators say this is a highly discriminatory practice that is destroying the level playing field between DD Free Dish and other DTH operators.
According to data reported by the rating company Crisil Research, in FY21, DD Free Dish enjoyed a subscriber base of 40.41 million, while all the other DTH operators put together have 69.57 million.

A top industry executive told BusinessLine, that broadcasters are chasing DD’s high rural viewership. “In fact, broadcasters are paying Prasar Bharti to allow their channels to air on DD Free Dish,” the expert explained on conditions of anonymity.

“Prasar Bharti auctions timeslots for broadcasters to air their channels on DD Free Dish. The catch here is that the channels that these broadcasters provide DD Free Dish for free are in fact second- or third-tier channels, which need this extra help to boost viewership,” the executive added.

The higher advertising cents provided by boosting viewership for second-tier channels such as Star Utsav, Colors Rishtey, and Zee Anmol, far outweigh the payment that they have to make to Prasar Bharti, analysts said.

But DTH players such as Tata Sky have been raising the issue of unfair discrimination with the TRAI., “Channels are filing their MRP as pay channels with TRAI and are offering the same to us as pay channels making our subscribers pay for it. The same channels are offered free to DD Free Dish. This results in discrimination for both our subscribers and us,” Tata Sky said in a letter to the regulator.

Harit Nagpal, Chief Executive Officer, Tata Sky, told BusinessLine, “According to TRAI’s new tariff order, broadcasters cannot offer certain channels to be free to air for some vendors and charge others. This was brought to the notice of TRAI last year but we are still waiting for the regulator’s action.” Nagpal said if the issue is not resolved then the matter could be escalted up to the judiciary. The Hindu BusinessLine

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