DD Free Dish auction: Did absence of ratings push news slot prices to a record high?

While most broadcasters paid a huge premium over what they paid last year for a slot on the platform, the highest bid went up by 80%

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Published: Mar 3, 2021 8:39 AM  | 4 min read
DD Free Dish

News remained the most sought after category in the third annual (52nd) e-auction of MPEG-2 slots of DD Free Dish platform like the previous edition, but the prices shot up astronomically this time. While most broadcasters paid a huge premium over what they paid last year for a slot on the platform, the highest bid saw a growth of 80%. According to experts, in the absence of ratings, broadcasters couldn’t afford to lose the reach of the platform and hence pushed their bids to an unprecedented high.

In a year of dwindling profits and shrinking ad revenue, the news broadcasters are reeling under the weight of the hefty sum paid to the public broadcaster to remain on the DD Free Dish platform.

“DD Free Dish platform offers at least 25 million viewers, and the moment a broadcaster is out of it, average advertisers will ask for a heavy discount given the channel’s universe size will immediately be lesser by 25 million. At a time when there are no ratings in the system, broadcasters can take no such risk and are forced to go all out to secure themselves a spot on DD Free Dish,” said a popular Hindi news broadcaster.

At the 44th e-auction last year, Category C, which belongs to Hindi and Punjabi News and Current Affairs, clocked a highest bid of Rs 12.25 crore. But this year, the number touched Rs 22.05 crore. The average slot price for the category stood at Rs 17.30 crore. Most channels paid close to double or thrice the value for the same slot when compared to last year. For instance, News 18 India, which secured a slot for around  Rs 7 crore last year, won the bid for an upwards of  Rs 20 crore this time around. Similarly, ABP News that paid close to Rs 12 crore to be on the platform last year secured a slot this year with a bid of close to Rs 16 crore.

“We have paid a huge chunk of our annual revenue on securing ourselves a spot on DD Free Dish. There was no clarity on the number of slots that would be auctioned for Category C that created ambiguities in the system leading to broadcasters bidding on speculations only,” said another English news broadcaster.

There are a total of 88 slots available on DD Free Dish. As per the latest LCN placements, Doordarshan has 35 channels on the platform followed by two religious channels and 51 private TV channels for which slots are auctioned. As per industry sources, there were 12 applicants for Category C. In the auction, technically 53 slots should have come in wherein five channels per genre are reserved in first session which leaves limited slots for the second session. As a result, after the first session when channels like Republic, Zee News and India TV failed to secure slots in the first round, they increased their bid money because no one expected more than one slot opening up for the category in round 2.

According to sources, high-level meetings took place at the ministry level where it was decided to drop some DD channels to accommodate more private news channels. Four auctions for news channels happened on Friday (26.02.2021). Every time the auction started, broadcasters felt that it would be the last slot and kept on bidding high. The winning channels that day were Zee News, Republic Bharat, Aaj Tak Tez, and Zee Hindustan for a total price of Rs 75 crore, with the highest bid valued at Rs 21.15 crore.

Interestingly, Prasar Bharati again wrote to unsuccessful bidders informing them of another bid on Saturday where NDTV won the final slot. News 24 is the only channel that was there on the platform last year, but could not secure a slot this year.

The News and Current Affairs category clocked a total of Rs 190.3 crore accounting for over 26% of Prasar Bharati’s total earning from the 3rd annual (52nd) e-auction of MPEG-2 slots of DD Free Dish.

Meanwhile, the allege discrepancies in the process has led to some broadcasters questioning the credibility of the auction.

“Will we take the auction as seriously next time given all the broadcasters on the platform last year, barring one, have secured spots on DD Free Dish this time around at 2X and 3X prices? The auction this time has created a lot of discrepancies in the system,” said another popular broadcaster.


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