Star Utsav, Sony Pal, Zee Anmol, Rishtey back on DD Free Dish

One of the set-top-boxes available for DD Free Dish

Prasar Bharti, India’s public broadcaster which operates 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.

Two slots have been allocated to Zee Entertainment Enterprises, while one each has been allocated to the other three.

This follows a change of mind among these private broadcasters about converting these channels from free to pay channels.

The exact method by which these five slots have been allocated is not clear. Traditionally, channel slots are allocated only after a much publicized electronic auction or e-auction, in which any company can bid to place its channel on India’s biggest TV distribution platform.

Originally, an auction was supposed to have been conducted in the second half of March. However, this did not happen.

Instead, Prasar Bharti said e-auction cannot take place during COVID-19 pandemic, and set up a committee to allocate channel slots without an auction.

That committee would “consider the issues arising out of COVID-19 and suggest alternatives in respect of carriage of private TV channels on DD Free Dish”, according to Prasar Bharti’s notification.

Not much is known about the deliberations of the committee or whether it came up with any alternative method of allocation of channels.

It is also not known if the 45th e-auction eventually took place. Prasar Bharti’s website has notifications only up to the 44th e-auction. On this website, Prasar Bharti usually puts up details of the auction winners, the winning bids and other ‘highlights’.

However, no information pertaining to the 45th e-auction is available on the page.

Nevertheless, Prasar Bharti has separately announced that five slots were allocated to the private broadcasters for carrying their channels Star Utsav, Sony Pal, Zee Anmol, Colors Rishtey and Zee Anmol Cinema.

These were, at one time, the most watched channels on DD Free Dish — the government’s free satellite TV service targeting the Hindi speaking market. However, they were withdrawn a year ago after the regulator asked these private broadcasters to either give these channels free of charge to all DTH customers, or stop giving it free of charge to DD Free Dish.

The return of these channels on DD Free Dish seems to indicate that the private broadcasters have come to the conclusion that their previous policy of taking these channels pay did not give the intended benefits.

These channels were converted to ‘pay’ in the expectation that consumers will prefer to buy bouquets or channels packs such as the Zee Family Pack, Star Value Pack and Sony Happy India Pack, instead of buying channels one by one.

As such, broadcasters thought that taking these channels pay and adding them to their pay channel bouquets would result in better penetration than selling them one by one as free channels. TRAI rules prohibit inclusion free and pay channels as part of the same bouquet.

Interestingly, even though these channels have been allocated slots on DD Free Dish, they are still being sold as pay channels on other platforms such as Dish TV and Sun Direct.

It is expected that they will be converted to free channels on all platforms before they are added to DD Free Dish.