Technical slip-up allowing some channels a free ride on Free Dish?

Several broadcasters have come together and written to MIB about the alleged misuse of the Free Dish platform

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: May 28, 2020 9:38 AM

The News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) is in constant touch with the Centre to get the carriage fee waived for a few months due to cash flow problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But as broadcasters struggle to pay their dues to Prasar Bharati to stay free to air (FTA), are some channels enjoying a free ride on the platform?

According to sources, some seven regional channels have been bypassing Free Dish regulations, creating discrepancies in the industry. Several broadcasters have come together and written to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) about the alleged misuse of the free dish platform.

As per some of these letters accessed by e4m, these seven channels are available on Free Dish since November 2019. Most of the letters sent out to the ministry complain about the absence of a level playing field in the wake of this alleged malpractice.

One of the letters say that since the auction price for getting a slot on DD Free Dish is steep, many of the regional broadcasters cannot afford to participate in the auction conducted by Prasar Bharati. Hence, it is only unfair that some channels take the advantage of technical slip-ups and be available as a FTA channel for free. The technical slip-up in question here is MIB’s permissions to certain platforms to carry on dual transmission on C-band as well as Ku-band. DD Free Dish is available on Ku-Band on GSAT-15. Channels available on DD Free Dish are free, thereby offering the channels a huge viewership and reach. Channels bypassing the free bouquet bid for slots on DD Free Dish are also thereby avoiding the carriage fee that is levied eventually.

Availability of these channels on free dish is costing the public broadcaster annual damages to the tune of Rs 60 crore.

Regional broadcasters are facing losses in the process. In the letters written to MIB in the month of April, broadcasters have also complained to the ministry about the kind of edge the seven channels in discussion are enjoying in the market for being easily available on Free Dish. Their claim is these channels have grown to have a 33 per cent market share against a negligible one they had in October 2019 when they were not available on free dish. “We are losing legitimate business to these channels,” one of the complaining broadcasters wrote in its letter to the ministry.

One of the other broadcasters in his letter wrote that “these channels are getting benefits over other news players who cannot afford to carry themselves on DD Free Dish by paying a huge annual average carriage fee of Rs 10.85 crore. This is not giving a level playing field to genuine broadcasters who are working in true spirit during the current emergency situation.”

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