DD plans Rs 5-billion DTH foray

NEW DELHI: At a time when the world over KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) television service works better in a monopolistic situation or at best in a duopoly, India seems to be a country where more players are jumping into this arena. The latest to sing the DTH tune is none other than India's pubcaster Prasar Bharati that today said it also plans to launch a DTH service.



"The board of Prasar Bharati has decided that Doordarshan too would a player in DTH and the Planning Commission has approved of the project and the funding needed for it," India's information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told journalists here today after inaugurating the Delhi marketing office of Prasar Bharati that manages DD and All India Radio.

However, indiantelevision.com learns from government sources that DD's plans to launch a DTH service is more to do with reducing its costs on expansion of the terrestrial network. According to one estimate, the cost of expanding the terrestrial network of DD would be more than double of the investment that would be required on a DTH project as calculated by Prasar Bharati.

Though the minister also added that DD's proposed DTH service would be in "free to air mode", none of the Prasar Bharati officials could explain properly the rationale of spending about Rs 5 billion - the fund that has been approved, as per official confirmation - on a project like DTH and how it would operate in an FTA mode (whatever that means).

The minister added that the proposed DTH platform would have a mix of free to air and pay channels. How will that work? No clear answer was forthcoming.

Will DD's grand DTH plans include other private satellite channels? Is there any time frame to the launch? Will Indians prefer a DTH platform put together by DD or a private operator like the Subhash Chandra promoted ASC Enterprise or the one being planned by Rupert Murdoch's Star through Space TV? Would the DTH platform be in collaboration with telecom companies like Mahanagar telecom Nigam Ltd., Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. as envisaged earlier?

When questioned on these lines, Prasad said, "The Prasar Bharati board approved DD's forays into DTH on 9 April only. Give the organization some time to finalise its plans."

But, Prasar Bharati chief executive KS Sarma, on being cross-questioned by journalists on the FTA mode DTH and other aspects of it helpfully said, "We would put our case before the government (read apply for a DTH licence) by the end of this month."

Asked what does DTH in a FTA mode means, Sarma only said, "The channels (on the proposed DTH platform) would not be encrypted and the subscriber would only have to buy the box." But wouldn't it defeat the whole purpose of a KU-band DTH?

Though Sarma also hinted that some informal talks have been initiated with private broadcasters to come on to the DTH platform, two of the biggest broadcasters operating in India told indiantelevision.com that they have not been approached by Prasar Bharati officially or unofficially for any DTH plans.

"Unless the plans are clear, no private channel would like to hop on to DD's DTH platform," a senior executive of a media organization that is planning forays into the DTH segment in India said today evening, sounding sceptical of Prasar Bharati's abilities to carry out a massive project like DTH.

But Sarma was insistent that Prasar Bharati was best positioned to offer a DTH service. "With our vast infrastructure and engineering strength, nobody can offer a better (DTH) proposition to people than us," he claimed.


Dwelling on the aspect of marketing, Prasad said that this was the age when one has to effectively market one's strengths and Prasar Bharati too, should do that.

The rationale behind establishing a marketing division of Prasar Bharati is to slowly stop outsourcing marketing to outside agencies, Sarma said, adding, that the marketing division in various cities (five have been opened and the sixth one is slated to come up in Calcutta) would sell airtime of AIR and DD together or individually as the case demanded.

DD's director-general SY Quraishi added, "The endeavour is to se that DD does its own marketing and over a period of time we would take full control of the marketing activities."

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