Return of channels to DD Free Dish will bring fair play in market: Experts

Media experts believe move will lead to supply consolidation, compared to the current highly fragmented situation

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Jun 5, 2020 9:26 AM

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Free Dish

With COVID-19 causing broadcaster revenues to hit an all-time low, the leading networks which collectively withdrew their channels from DD FreeDish last year in March are back on the platform after bidding for MPEG-2 slots on June 3, 2020. Last year, with the onset of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) new tariff regime, channels lik Zee Anmol, Sony Pal, Star Utsav, Colors Rishtey and a few more pulled out of the free dish.
Experts believe the coming back is likely to lead to supply consolidation, compared to the current highly fragmented situation. “The extent of impact on GRPs and reach of these new FTAs and other paid GECs will vary depending on how soon production resumes and original content is back. However, these FTA channels will cannibalise the paid GEC audiences and it will definitely impact some of the large existing FTA channels on DD Free Dish,” said a senior media planner who did not wish to be quoted.
However, most media experts believe it’s a win-win situation for viewers as well as broadcasters.
Hema Malik, Chief Operating Officer, Loderstar UM, believes the move will bring a fair play in the market and give viewers access to good content and more choices.  “There was an overall drop in FTA GRPs when the major broadcasters pulled their channels. With broadcasters coming back into the FTA space now, it becomes far more promising. The audience will have more options and quality content now,” said Malik. 
Malik also believes that with COVID-19, there is an economic pressure and monthly household income is expected to get impacted. “A lot of viewers may review their discretionary expenditure. With more channel options within FTA space, consumers will review the number of paid channels they subscribed to. It's good news, there is definitely a market and audience that was there. I don't think anyone will ever doubt the performance of the channels on the FTA platform..it's tried and tested. It is a comeback after an year which was missed and advertisers are not going to wait for trial to see how they perform now. It should revive immediately.”
Sujata Dwibedy, Group Trading Director, Amplifi India, called it a great move. “DD Free Dish has always helped the broadcasters get better numbers. Last year when they moved away from the platform, the channels witnessed a drop in numbers which they never got back. Hence, they had to come back now to get those numbers back.  It's a very good move by the networks. It's a proven fact that whatever is there on the DD Free Dish will garner better numbers,” she told e4m.
While the pulling out hit the viewership of big broadcasters, it came as a big boon for smaller networks that continued on FreeDish. The channel to gain maximum leverage out of the move was Dangal TV.
“Dangal did witness an exponential growth which is 100 per cent, but ultimately it will be the quality of content that is going to win. The unavailability of original content on FreeDish was the problem but with these channels going back, the best content will get the most eyeballs,” Diwibedy added.
Another expert also highlighted that given the impacted situation of payment collection for the cable industry post COVID, if cable operators decide to cut down the number of paid channels to reduce their financial burden, it could lead to a gain of audiences for these FTA channels.
From 80 channels in 2018, Free Dish grew to 104 in 2019, out of which 24 are operated by Prasar Bharti. As per the FICCI EY M&E report 2019, FreeDish ad revenue plummeted with the pulling out of popular GEC and film channels. It is estimated that approximately Rs 10 billion (Rs 1000 crore) of advertising was pulled out from FreeDish when leading broadcasters removed their catch-up television channels from it. 
“In 2017, these channels were enjoying a good amount of business as they were achieving some respectable GRPs which was driving their revenues. Post NTO, they lost almost half of the revenue because they were not getting appropriate GRPs and channel share was not as good as it was in 2017,” added a media planner who did not wish to be quoted.
He further explained that coming back will help them boost their revenues. “FMCG category operates on low CPRPs as compared to other categories and those clients like to take all the channels. At certain points if they are not adding any new channel, they will not get the particular reach. If they want to increase their incremental reach, they have to tap a new set of audience with new channels, and these channels were providing good reach with low CPRPs. And whatever rates channels were operating, they were almost sufficing the need of FMCG brands,” he added. He estimated that in the next 5-6 months these channels will start driving decent amounts of revenues.

With Inputs from Sonam Saini

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