Prasar Bharati, India’s public broadcaster that operates a DD free dish satellite TV service, has given five slots on the DTH platform to major private sector broadcasters such as Star India, Sony Pictures Networks, TV18 Broadcast and Zee Entertainment Enterprises.
Zee Entertainment Enterprises has been allocated two slots, while one has been allotted to the other three.
It follows a change of mind among these private broadcasters about converting these channels into paid channels for free.
The exact manner in which these five slots have been allocated is not clear. Traditionally, channel slots are allocated only after the much-hyped electronic auction or e-auction, in which any company can bid to place its channel on India’s largest TV distribution platform.
Originally, an auction was supposed to be held in the second half of March. However, this did not happen.
Instead, Prasar Bharati stated that e-auction cannot take place during the COVID-19 epidemic, and constituted a committee to allocate channel slots without auction.
This committee, according to Prasar Bharati’s notification, “will consider issues related to COVID-19 and suggest options regarding carriage on DD free dish of private TV channels”.
There is not much information about the deliberations of the committee or whether it has come up with any alternative method of allocation of channels.
It is also not known whether the 45th e-auction eventually took place. Prasar Bharati’s website only has information up to the 44th e-auction. On this website, Prasar Bharati usually details auction winners, winning bids and other ‘highlights’.
However, no information related to the 45th e-auction is available on the page.
Nevertheless, Prasar Bharati has separately announced that five slots were allotted to private broadcasters to carry their channels Star Utsav, Sony Pal, Zee Anmol, Colors Rishte and Zee Anmol Cinema.
These were, at one time, the most watched channel on DD Free Dish – the government’s free satellite TV service targeting the Hindi-speaking market. However, they were withdrawn a year ago, when the regulator asked these private broadcasters to either give these channels free to all DTH subscribers, or stop giving DD free dishes for free.
The return of these channels to DD Free Dish appears to have led private broadcasters to conclude that their previous policy of paying these channels did not provide the expected benefits.
These channels were changed to ‘Pay’ in the hope that consumers would prefer to buy bouquets or channel packs like Zee Family Pack, Star Value Pack and Sony Happy India Pack instead of buying the channels one by one.
For example, broadcasters thought that paying these channels and adding them to their pay channel bouquets would be better than selling them one by one as free channels. TRAI’s rules ban free inclusion and pay channels as part of the same bouquet.
Interestingly, even though these channels have been allotted slots on DD Free Dish, they are being sold as pay channels on other platforms like Dish TV and Sun Direct.
It is expected that they will be converted into free channels on all platforms before being added to DD Free Dish.