Boxes sold, but where's DD Direct Plus?

NEW DELHI: Indian pubcaster Doordarshan's proposed DTH television venture is becoming a bit of a joke with a prolonged delay in launching the KU-band service increasingly irking those customers who have bought set-top boxes and have nothing much to do than twiddle their thumbs.

What's more, sale of set-top boxes, which were earlier doing fairly brisk business in remote areas of the country, especially Rajasthan, have dropped over the last 30 days to almost nil.

An official of Prasar Bharati, which manages DD and All India Radio, admitted that a delay in the formal launch of the DTH service, named DD Direct Plus, would not go down well with existing customers who have bought the basic level set-top boxes (STBs) for the service.

"We understand that such delays would not endear us to people, but we too are helpless in addressing some problems," the official said.

It seems that DD is keen the Rs 5 billion DTH service should be inaugurated by no less than the Prime Minister himself, but Dr. Manmohan Singh has not been able to give a definite date for the inauguration function yet due to his busy schedule. Besides, the information and broadcasting ministry had certain reservations on certain issues like having private news channels Aaj Tak, CNN and BBC, on DD Direct Plus. The issue, however, has been resolved.

The delay in launching the KU-band service, mainly aimed at expanding the penetration of DD channels, has had some other side effects too. For example, some of the private sector TV channels that evinced interest in joining the DTH platform are dithering on signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Prasar Bharati.

Even Star, which had said it would give Star Utsav for the DD Direct platform, according to Prasar Bharati sources, is playing the delaying game.

Some other channels like Jagran and ETC (from the Zee stable) after having made promises earlier, have not shown much enthusiasm of late.

Zee's reluctance is understandable as DD, after acquiring the telecast rights for some of the home cricket matches, summarily told Dish TV, which has 20 per cent investment from Zee Telefilms , to discontinue DD National and DD Sports from its DTH platform, much to the chagrin of the Subhash Chandra company.

Until now, Prasar Bharati has signed agreements with only five private sector channels including Sun TV, Kairali, Akash Bangla and the almost-nearing oblivion Jain TV. But DD sources indicated that some new deals may be signed early next week.

DD Direct Plus is a free to air KU-band service. For the first two years, subscribers will not have to pay any subscription money. The DTH platform will also not change carriage fee from any private sector satellite channel. The service was to flag off with 30 channels, which would increase to 40 over a period of time.

Meanwhile, two STB manufacturers - Delhi-based Spacelink and Ahmedabad-based MCBS, entrusted by DD for manufacturing and distributing the boxes - have expressed discontent. The message: sale of STBs has almost come to a standstill owing to customer disenchantment over delay in launching the DTH service.

The DD source admitted that sale has dropped "drastically" in recent times, even though between 25,000-30,000 boxes have been sold till now.

There are over 900 dealers in 212 cities and towns attempting to push the STB for DD Direct Plus. Sale had been brisk around June-July in states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra. In Rajasthan especially, cable TV's penetration is not so deep because of the rough and difficult terrain.

A basic box for the proposed DTH service costs approximately Rs 2,500 (slightly over $ 54) and can access all free to air channels without the help of any smart card.

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