9X Media, B4U & MASTiii challenge FreeDish e-auction in Delhi HC

The petitioners feel the base prices are very high for small broadcasters.

MUMBAI: Within a few days of DD FreeDish e-auction recommencement notice, 9X Media, B4U and MASTiii have filed a writ petition before the Delhi High Court asking for a stay on the upcoming e-auction process as they feel the base prices are very high for small broadcasters.

It wants the court to quash the guidelines issued by Prasar Bharati on 15 January 2019 as well as its directive to disconnect channels from 1 March 2019.

9x Media has mentioned that it is a loss-making entity with losses of Rs 7.81 crore and negative earnings per share and such a decision could adversely impact its business. Its petition contends that FreeDish has shut the doors on small non-profit making companies from being available to the public at large and instead prefers deep-pocketed ones.

After a long hiatus, Prasar Bharati board gave a green signal to e-auctioning of slots for DD FreeDish along with a revised policy with a change in pricing. The new policy guideline has kept five buckets for e-auction of MPEG2 slots. Bucket A+ has been kept for Hindi GECs and teleshopping channels with a reserve price of Rs 15 crore, and Bucket A has been dedicated to Hindi movie channels with a reserve price of Rs 12 crore.

Hindi music, sports and Bhojpuri GEC and movie come under Bucket B which has a reserve price of Rs 10 crore. All news & current affairs (Hindi), All news & current affairs (English) and news & current affairs (Punjabi) channels fall under the category of Bucket C which with a reserve price of Rs 7 crore. The Bucket D with the lowest reserve price of Rs 6 crore will comprise all other remaining genres/language channels.

9X Media contends that these categories of ‘high commercial potentiality’ and prices have not been justified by FreeDish. The petition also states that companies running news channels such as TV Today Network and Zee Media are profit-making companies and so keeping their base price lower than music channels is unjustified.

“The channels can differ in content, viewership, class of customer, commercial potentiality, advertisement available, peak time of the channel, regions and other factors...Different music channels can have different uptake, viewership, potentiality, etc,” the document reads.

The petitioners state that the entire process has been conducted arbitrarily without maintaining transparency. It even adds that Prasar Bharati is “misusing its status of the largest DTH operator, having largest number of subscriber base, as it claims to hold about 30 million subscribers.” Without consulting stakeholders, such decisions lead to creating monopoly in the hands of a few.

Additionally, Prasar Bharati is seeking carriage fees which are way higher than private players even as the validity of FreeDish having 30 million subscribers is contended.

The e-auctioning of slots onDD Free Dish were arbitrarily called off in 2017 while the last e-auction of DD FreeDish took place in July 2017. Earlier, DD FreeDish used to hold e-auction once every couple of months to award vacant channel slots to private broadcasters.

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