DD Free Dish continues to rise with an estimated 40 mn subscribers: FICCI-EY report

Star India, Viacom18 Media, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, and Sony Pictures Networks India made a comeback on DD Free Dish during 2020 to capitalise on advertising revenues

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Mar 30, 2021 12:13 PM
FICCI-EY report

Prasar Bharati's free DTH platform DD Free Dish continues its strong growth trajectory. According to the FICCI-EY report, Free television, on the other hand, continued to grow its base to cross an estimated 40 million subscribers on the back of less expensive television sets, economic issues, the launch of the DD Retro Channel, and the return of big broadcasters to the Free Dish platform

As of January 2021, DD Free Dish hosted 161 channels including 91 Doordarshan channels (comprising of 51 educational channels launched during the pandemic) and 70 private channels. The Free Dish service also delivers All India Radio’s audio programming content of around 48 satellite radio channels.

Four large broadcast networks, Star India, Viacom18 Media, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, and Sony Pictures Networks India, who had pulled-out their content from DD Free Dish from 1 March 2019, made a comeback on DD Free Dish during 2020 to capitalise on advertising revenues.

Channels like Zee Anmol, Sony Pal, Star Utsav, and Colors Rishtey, which were re-launched on DD Free Dish witnessed viewership as high as the pre-NTO period. According to the report, these channels would have generated Rs 300-400 crore of incremental advertising revenue in 2020 which could increase to Rs 1000 crore in 2021.

It further stated that DD Free Dish has become a second set-top box within the home, used when there are no large events on television in some cases. The report quotes DD Free Dish distributors as saying that they are unable to keep up with demand due to a shortage of China-manufactured chipsets.

According to EY estimates, while DTH and HITS were relatively stable in 2020, cable saw a decline of 3% compared to 2019 numbers. The cable universe declined from 75 million in 2019 to 73 million in 2020. DTH and HITS base remained stagnant at 56 million and 2 million respectively while free TV increased from 38 million to 40 million in 2020.

Lack of fresh content and migration of people during the lockdown is believed to have hit the pay-TV base. "We observed 131 million paid subscriptions for which broadcasters earned revenues in 2020, as compared to 133 million we had reported in 2019," the report states.

Television subscription revenues in India decreased 7% to Rs 43,400 crore in 2020, mainly due to a fall in ARPUs and a reduction in the paid subscriber base by around two million television homes. While 2020 was impacted by COVID-19, we expect the subscription base for traditional unidirectional television services (cable, DTH, HITS) to keep growing as penetration levels increase over the next few years

The report stated that connected smart TV sets grew to cross 5-7 million. At the other end of the cost spectrum, smart television sets also grew their base to around 5-7 million homes. The report expects connected smart TV sets to reach 14 million by 2023 and 40 million by 2025 End-customer prices decreased.

Industry discussions indicate that over 70% of subscribers had opted for DPO designed packages at the beginning of 2020 before the lockdown, but that number reduced as subscribers started to let go of channels they did not wish to watch which caused a fall in ARPUs

DPOs implemented different strategies for customer retention – including suggesting lower-cost DPO packages cheaper than the ones originally subscribed to by users. End-customer prices declined 5% on average to reach Rs 226 net of taxes as compared to Rs 239 in 2019.

The report said that Pay TV will continue to grow marginally as states like UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, and West Bengal get electrified. However, more new users will enter the Free TV market as the Free Dish channel count increases to around 200 by 2022 (from 120 in 2019), providing a low-cost advertising opportunity to marketers.

"Growth of unidirectional TV will be far outstripped by the growth of connected TVs, which could reach 40 to 50 million connected sets by 2025, on the back of 46 Indian cities which have a population of over a million each and a total population of 122 million which can be wired-up more easily for broadband as well as telcos partnering with LCOs to drive broadband services. This means that overall TV connections will keep growing at a healthy pace of over 5% per year to cross 71% of Indian households by 2025," the report said.

The affluence of the average television audience will reduce as top-end subscribers gravitate to smart and connected television sets and the free television audience crosses 150 million by 2025. Consequently, the content on television is expected to become more escapist and mass in nature. This fact can help control the increase in average content costs for television programming, though marquee/tent-pole programs and reality shows will always have their place.

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