DD's DTH not to have rev loss in lease out operations

NEW DELHI: Doordarshan has denied that its plans to modernize its direct-to-home platform, DD Direct Plus, by leasing it out for operation and maintenance to a private party will result in any loss to the pubcaster.

DD sources told that DD Direct Plus was expected to get an annual fee of Rs One billion each from the 54 channels that will beam on MPEG 2 and Rs 1.5 billion each from the 96 channels that will beam on MPEG 4.

However, these sources claim that the private party which will be selected for outsourcing operations and maintenance for a period of five years will be paid only Rs 600 milllion per year.

The Recognised Association‘s Forum Of Akashwani and Doordarshan had written a letter to Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni describing the move as an "arbitrary and undemocratic decision" of the Nominated Member and Prasar Bharati CEO Rajiv Takru who is Additional Secretary in the Ministry.

It has also been pointed out that the Planning Commission has already sanctioned an amount of additional Rs 1.44 billion to Doordarshan, which is sufficient for this purpose.

But DD sources told that the plan was to float tenders to find parties who would not only install new and state-of-the-art equipment but also run the operations and maintenance of DD Direct Plus for a period of five years.

However, the proposal had still not received final clearance from the government, the sources added.

When floated, the request for proposal (RFP) will invite eligible private DTH and teleport operators to take over the operational command and control of DD Direct Plus for the next five years for a fixed monthly fee.

The action is being taken to facilitate the raising of the capacity of the platform from 59 to 200 and beyond in 6-8 months.

Doordarshan spends Rs 3.5 billion to Rs four billion every year to operate 59 channels on DD Direct+ (including 22 DD channels), sources said. 
Under the proposed arrangement, private operators will manage the entire technical back-end of DD Direct Plus including uplink and downlink of channels, quality control, expansion and subscriber management, among others.

In order to attract only serious private players, Doordarshan will keep the net worth requirement for bidders at Rs two billion, which means only DTH firms like Dish TV, Tata Sky, Digital TV, Sun Direct and others can qualify. Among teleport operators, Essel Shyam and HFCL are said to have a net worth above Rs two million.

Private firms will be able to bid as a company or a consortium as long as they have experience of operating a minimum of 30 channels on MPEG-2 technology.

Meanwhile, the Association of Radio & Television Engineering Employees (ARTEE) and the National Federation of Akashvani & Doordarshan Employees (NFADE) have claimed that the Centre sanctioned Rs.449.6 billion in August 2010 for upgrading the hardware to uplink 97 channels. But Prasar Bharati decided to outsource the work to any private agency to uplink 100 channels at the cost of Rs 770 million per year with an increase of 40 per cent every year.

The two organisations say that ‘the mockery is the private agency will operate from our own building at Todapur (from where present DTH system with 56 channels)’.

DD sources said if one went by the fact that Doordarshan earned Rs 630 million by successfully e-auctioning and allotting 26 slots to private broadcasters, the policy of taking on a private party had been a successful exercise.

The public broadcaster is now expected to put on auction another 90 slots within the next few months as it increases its capacity from 59 to 150 channels. If the present revenue is any indication, then DD may make another Rs 2.17 billion, crossing the Rs 2.8 billion mark before 31 March 2012.

The e-auction was adopted after some private channels challenged the decision of Prasar Bharati last year to remove them without assigning valid and acceptable reasons. The Court then asked the public broadcaster to adopt a transparent system for allocation of slots.

The first-two e-auctions were conducted by NCDEX Spot, Mumbai, an online trading firm after giving due training and exposure to all participating bidders.

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