Media experts wary of DD Free Dish e-auction 

Hiked reserve prices have made it difficult for lot of players to even participate in the auction, say industry players

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Feb 9, 2019 10:40 AM
Free Dish

The e-auction for 55 vacant slots for DD Free Dish and the free-to-air direct to home (DTH) service will take place on February 11 but the industry doesn’t seem to be kicked about it. 

From media analysts to distribution experts, most industry people have been saying that the e-auction will turn out to be a damp squib even this time around with few or no takers for the slots. 

“We are very apprehensive about the e-auction. Hiked reserve prices make it difficult for a lot of players to even participate in the auction. We don't see a lot of private broadcasters making a queue for the slots. There would always be big broadcasters who are in a position to buy the slots at the quoted prices but those are only a handful,” said a senior media analyst on the condition of anonymity.

So, how high are the reserve prices? From being in a price bracket of Rs 6.5 crore and Rs 8 crore in news and non-news channel category, the reserve price for different genres and languages bracketed in different buckets now ranges between Rs 6 crore to Rs 15 crore. The hike wasn't even long due for the public broadcaster.  It was also only in 2017 that DD Free Dish revised its reserve prices for non-news channels to Rs 8 crore, up from Rs 4.8 crore.

However, it is not just the hiked reserved prices that the broadcasters are protesting about. Industry experts are also not happy with the kind of categorisation done. In the new five Bucket category there is category A+ that is Hindi GEC and teleshopping, followed by Bucket A that has Hindi movies. Bucket B has Hindi music, Hindi sports and both movies and GEC Bhojpuri. Bucket C comprises of Hindi, English and Punjabi channels of news and currents affairs. Finally, there is Bucket D that groups channels in all other genres.

Host of broadcasters are of the opinion that the new Buckets do not make it a fair combination or competition. In fact, a group of three broadcasters—9X Media, B4U Broadband and TV Vision—have also challenged  Prasar Bharati’s new policy guidelines for DD Free Dish that defines the new 5 buckets for slots. The decision in the case is pending with the Delhi High Court.

"In the name of e-auction, Prasar Bharati is only drawing plans to make more money from big broadcasters. Given the limited slots and the extremely hiked reserved prices the small-time broadcasters will anyway have no scope of buying slots," said a distribution expert.

“We must not forget how DD failed to receive any application in two to three of its Free Dish auctions due to high reserve prices in the recent past. It was only after these failed attempts that in July 2017, the State broadcaster earned Rs 85.10 crore in an e-auction held where 11 channel slots were given to private broadcasters. The reserved prices have always been a huge point of disappointment in these e-auctions. It has been almost 5 years since they had promised the number of slots to go close to 200 but till date, as we can see, the number has never crossed even 60," he added. 

For most in the industry the combination of steep reserved prices and limited slots do not make the upcoming e-auction a lucrative proposition.
Under the new policy, the Hindi general entertainment channels and teleshopping channels will have a reserve price of Rs 15 crore, followed by Hindi movie channels with a reserve price of Rs 12 crore. 

The Hindi music, sports, and Bhojpuri GEC will have a reserve price of Rs 10 crore and news channels in Hindi, English and Punjabi will have a reserve price of Rs 7 crore. Bucket D that clubs all other genres is to have a reserved price for Rs 6 crore. 

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