Zee, govt may sign DTH licence agreement by next week

NEW DELHI: The Subhash Chandra-promoted ASC Enterprises, which has sought a licence from the Indian government to operate a KU-band direct-to-home (DTH) television service in India, is expected to sign a licence agreement with them some time next week.

According to a senior executive of Siti Cable, which is implementing the DTH project under the brand name Dish TV, "We have submitted the bank guarantee a few days ago and expect to sign the formal licence next week. Presently, the information and broadcasting ministry is understood to be preparing the necessary papers."

The executive clarified that contrary to what has been reported in a section of the media, the formal agreement has not been signed yet.

Siti Cable is the cable arm of another Subash Chandra-promoted company, ZeeTelefilms Ltd.

Apart from ASC, other companies that have applied for a DTH licence include Space TV, a company promoted by Star India employees.

India's pubcaster Doordarshan, which has got a government permission, expects its DTH operations to begin from April 2004. It will consisting mainly of DD channels and South Indian regional channels, though talks would be initiated with other private satellite channels - like Star and Sony - to join the platform on a revenue sharing basis.

The Siti Cable executive also said that DTH venture is likely to go on air by early October. "We are targeting to formally launch the service in the first week of October. Marketing activities are on at the moment." The likely launch date is 2 October, which coincides with the anniversary of Zee TV.

The ASC-Siti Cable combine is also looking at making available the DTH service to consumers at a comparatively low cost --- much lower than what has been touted by the industry. The industry, however, has cited global trends where DTH is a costly affair with niche and super-premium fare being aired through the service.

According to the Siti Cable executive, "The monthly subscription rates are still being worked out, but they will be competitive and comparable to cable service."

The subscription fee for cable service in India, on an average, ranges between Rs 150 to Rs 450 (approximately between $ 3.50 to $9.60) per month.

It is also expected that to woo customers to the DTH service, Dish TV would keep the rates of the hardware needed for the service, including the dish and the box, to around Rs 5,000 (approximately $106). That would also include the one-time installation fee.

Earlier, ASC had petitioned the government to give it some relaxation on the the bank guarantee of Rs 400 million that had to be furnished before the licence was signed for a period of 10 years, as mandated in the guidelines.

ASC had said since no Indian bank gives a bank guarantee for such a long period, like in the telecom sector, it should be allowed to furnish a bank guarantee renewable every two years or so. The government had agreed to this request.

Dish TV is expected to be launched with 48 TV channels and this is expected to go up to over 100 in a year. Additionally, the first phase will have several radio channels in the first phase, apart from other value-added services like electronic programming guide and parental lock to keep the kids from watching unpalatable fare, if any. The number of channels on Dish TV is expected to go up to over 100 within a year of launch.

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