Freedish & FM-ization's slow development will hurt Prasar Bharati's growth: Parliamentary Committee

NEW DELHI: Noting that it had asked the Government to expedite the Freedish Project and make necessary efforts to complete all procedural formalities in this regard, a Parliamentary Committee has expressed concern that the implementation of Conditional Access System (CAS) has been held up due to the inordinate delay in firming up a vendor.

For Doordarshan to realise the benefits of upgradation and expansion, Prasar Bharati had taken initiatives to enhance the subscriber base and publicity of DD Freedish DTH platform along with providing a dedicated customer service division and a 24x7 call/help centre.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee for Information Technology, which reviews issues related to Information and Broadcasting Ministry said in a report laid in the Parliament that all these initiatives will not yield the desired benefit unless the DD Freedish initiative is expedited by fast tracking the implementation of CAS.

As providing Freedish is crucial to enhance competitiveness of Doordarshan vis-a-vis the private TV channels, the Committee in its Action Taken Report said, "It is highly imperative that the procedural hurdles with regard to CAS need to be removed."

The Committee, therefore, stressed that Prasar Bharati needed to complete all the procedural formalities for expeditious execution of the Freedish project.

Similarly, with regard to FM-ization, the Committee had recommended that Prasar Bharati formulate a comprehensive plan on FM-ization at the earliest for seeking Cabinet approval.

But the Committee, which was suggesting a roadmap for revival of Prasar Bharati said it was "perturbed to note that no action has been initiated so far by the Prasar Bharati to prepare a comprehensive proposal. As FM-ization needs enhanced Plan allocation under the 12th Plan and the proposal can be approved at the time of revision of the 12th Plan before sending the final proposal for approval of CCEA, the Committee urged that Prasar Bharati take urgent steps for preparation of a comprehensive proposal for FM-ization without any further delay."

In its original report, the Committee had said, "The Committee recognises that the idea of providing Freedish and progressive FM-ization can play a vital role in shaping the future roadmap for the revival of Prasar Bharati. As part of its FreeDish endeavour, Doordarshan has upgraded the technical infrastructure of DD FreeDish DTH platform and is presently providing free to air 64 SDTV channels in MPEG-2DVB-S. The technical infrastructure of the remaining 48 SDTV channels has also been installed and tested. Once these channels are made CAS enabled in free-to-view mode, subscribers can view these channels with a onetime annual registration. Doordarshan is planning to commission these 48 SDTV channels in Freedish mode only after implementing the CAS Service, upgrading its platform to 112 channels. The Committee need hardly emphasize that popularization of Freedish may indeed prove to be one of the major keys which can turn around Doordarshan in a big way, especially when it is competing with private TV channels who are providing hundreds of channels to its viewers. Therefore, the Ministry should make efforts to complete all the procedural formalities so as to facilitate the expeditious execution of the Free Dish Project."

The Committee had also said that to bring Prasar Bharati on the revival track, it needs to move swiftly with its FM-ization initiative. On the issue of FM-ization, the Ministry has informed that it is for the Prasar Bharati to take a call on FM-ization. It had conveyed to Prasar Bharati that the issue can be addressed at the time of revision in the 12th Plan, which may be approved by the Prasar Bharati Board and the final scheme proposal may be forwarded to the Ministry for approval by CCEA. The Committee recommended that Prasar Bharati should accordingly go ahead and formulate a comprehensive proposal on FM-ization at the earliest for seeking Cabinet approval.”

In response to its queries, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in their Action Taken Note stated, “Prasar Bharati has informed that Upgradation/Expansion of DD Freedish platform from 59 channels to 112 channels has been partly completed by the Engineering Wing of DD. Upgradation involves introduction of CAS-enabled MPEG-4 channels in addition to the existing “unscrambled” MPEG-2 channels available to current subscribers. Four upgraded and bandwidth efficient MPEG-2 streams have already been enabled with 64 channels. Two MPEG-4 streams capable of carrying 48 SD channels are also being uplinked, but cannot be received by viewers due to non-implementation of CAS. Implementation of CAS has been held up due to inordinate delay in firming up a CAS vendor due to concerns raised with regard to the process adopted to identify a CAS vendor and one of the shortlisted entities, it has been decided to issue a fresh tender to identify the CAS vendor.

Once implemented, the CAS enabled MPEG-4 streams will open new opportunities for offering Value Added Services (VAS) such as EPG, home channels, overlay of advertisements, and similar other consumer oriented and revenue-generating services. It will also enable DD arrive at a precise estimate of Free Dish subscriber base, on the basis of which it will be able to demand higher carriage fees on its platform. For DD to realize the benefits of Upgradation/Expansion, DD Free Dish has to be supported by an active publicity, sales and support wing, which will help expand the subscriber base and make it the most popular DTH platform. This has to be supported by a dedicated customer service division, along with a 24x7 call/help centre. Both these efforts have been initiated by Prasar Bharati."

The Ministry also noted that Prasar Bharati had further informed that Radio Iistenership has moved over to FM Radio because of superior stereo quality and variety of 10 programming. In addition, availability of FM Radio on mobile phones has further enhanced its popularity. AIR FM Radio presently covers only 45 per cent of population. Cost of ensuring FM across entire nation is Rs 3000 crore (approx). This would require enhanced Plan allocation, mid term 12th plan review and generation of new resources. The Ministry has already communicated to Prasar Bharati that any revisions in the approved Plan Scheme will have to be taken up with CCEA after such proposals for revisions are furnished to the Ministry with due approval of Prasar Bharati Board.

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