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Sun TV expands DD Free Dish footprint in India

Prasar Bharati, the Indian state broadcasting corporation, has completed the annual auction for open MPEG-2 channel slots on its DD Free Dish platform.

DD Free Dish is a free direct-to-home (DTH) service and is India’s largest TV platform, with an enormous user base that has recently topped the 50-million-household mark, more than doubling over the past five years. DD Free Dish’s channels largely cater to an audience in the “Hindi heartland” of India—where Hindi is spoken or widely understood, such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Bihar. The auction garnered INR11.6bn ($139m), selling 64 channel slots across seven days, compared to the previous year’s auction, which garnered INR10.7bn ($128m) for 65 slots.

The highest price of INR190m ($2.3m) per channel slot was given to the Hindi General Entertainment Channel (GEC) category, which experienced 10% growth year on year (YoY). Channels in bucket D, which include Devotional, Marathi, and Punjabi language channels, grew faster than others, increasing by 25% YoY, although fewer free slots were available.

The strength of the DD Free Dish auction is particularly impressive given that many of India’s major channel groups no longer offer their leading GEC channels on the platform—these include STAR Plus, Sony SAB, and Colors. These withdrew from the auction in 2022, fearing the impact on their paid DTH provision.

One notable exception to this trend of DTH operators avoiding the leading free DTH platform has come from Sun TV, the South Indian broadcaster whose Sun TV Tamil GEC channel is the third most watched in India. Starting in April 2024, Sun TV’s new channel, Sun Neo, will operate in the Hindi GEC category. This will broaden the broadcaster’s potential market in North India, supplementing its existing Free Dish channel, Sun Marathi, which broadcasts in the Marathi language spoken in the western state of Maharashtra.

Sun TV’s pay DTH offering, Sun Direct, had 12.6m subscribers at the end of 2023, but the platform’s subscriber numbers and revenue growth have stalled in a challenging operating environment nationally. Advertising revenue for Sun TV has continued to grow post-pandemic, and the company experienced strong market performance through 2023. Sun TV hopes this could be substantially increased by operating a Hindi channel through DD Free Dish that will reach a far greater audience and allow the broadcaster to grow its OTT platform, SunNXT, in northern states.

Broadly, the barriers that hinder business between different linguistic areas in India continue to weaken as major providers seek to expand beyond their traditional bases to build growth. Multiple system operator pay-TV platforms have expanded their offerings across India, including GTPL Hathway, which has from a base in West Bengal and Gujarat across north India. Omdia

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