DTH

DD's DTH launch in limbo?

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NEW DELHI: With a launch date still not fixed, a certain section in Doordarshan now thinks that starting a free Ku-band direct-to-home (DTH) TV service is a recipe for disaster and a sure shot way of attracting censure from the Comptroller and Auditor General. Especially since a business plan is not yet in place.

The voices of apprehension have been bolstered by the fact that DD's efforts to get on its DTH platform some popular free to air entertainment channels haven't borne much fruit thus far. The FTA channels that have agreed to join the platform include the likes of the Indira Gandhi National Open University's (IGNOU) two channels Eklavya TV and Vyasa TV and religious channels like Sadhna TV and DD's own channels.

In a meeting late last week, the DTH issue was discussed by some top DD officials in the presence of director-general of DD, Naveen Kumar, where it was felt that the venture would fail to have the desired effect, especially when considering the money being poured in.

The Planning Commission, a government think tank on economic policies, had last year okayed Rs 5 billion for the DTH project. The sum was to be invested over a period of five years. The mega plans were announced last year by the then information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Subsequently the Cabinet had given its stamp of approval to DD's expansion plans.

A source in Prasar Bharati, which manages DD and sibling All India Radio, admitted to indiantelevision.com that in the meeting held last week one particular deputy director-general even brought up the point of the absence of a business plan and the lack of commercial viability of the proposed venture even though the outflow would be

there.

For example, it has been pointed out, that DD would have to pay The Netherlands-based New Skies Satellites

approximately Rs 300 million for transponder space for the DTH venture. Since the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) does not have additional and adequate transponder capacity on its existing satellites, which are marketed under the brand name Insat, DD's DTRH service was to be put on NSS-6.

Out of the total aid okayed by Planning Commission, DD has already invested approximately Rs 1.3 billion in

setting up an earth station in Delhi for the proposed DTH venture.

However, it is pertinent to mention here that there has been no official word from the information and broadcasting ministry on scrapping DD's DTH project. The issue is likely to gain momentum after Parasr Bharati CEO KS Sarma returns from the US next week where he has reportedly gone to attend a global broadcasters meet.

The Prasar Bharati source also indicated that the programming staff of DD feel that programming, something that is an important aspect of a DTH venture, has been totally neglected in the run up to the launch of a KU-band service.

DD's plans to launch a DTH service with a bouquet of 40-odd channels (out of which 20 were supposed to be DD's own, with the rest being private ones) was born when some I&B ministry mandarin calculated that to expand DD's coverage terrestrially (aim being to cover 100 per cent of the Indian population) would need a huge amount of investment. In comparison, it was tabulated that a KU-band DTH service would be cheaper.

The launch date has been postponed once before already.

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