This is an exciting period for the launch of new HD channels in India as well as DTH platforms adding existing HD channels, as was seen recently with Doordarshan completely transforming its Tamil channel, DD Podhigai, into the relaunched DD Tamil and also launching an HD feed for the same. On these lines, as of Friday (19 January 2024) Tata Play, India’s largest pay DTH operator, has now added the Tamil/Telugu HD sports channel Sony Sports Ten 4 HD on LCN 1554 — something that was thus far exclusive to Sun Direct, where it is present on LCN 990. (Tata Play has added it in the Tamil regional section, close to the SD version on LCN 1552, instead of the generic sports genre.) This comes a day after Airtel Digital TV added the Kannada HD movie channel Zee Picchar HD, which was thus far exclusive to Tata Play after a bumper HD channel addition at the end of October 2023.
With this, Tata Play now has a total of 104 satellite HD channels, easily the best of any DTH operator, and this includes all 15 satellite sports HD channels on air currently: seven from Star (Star Sports 1/2/1 Hindi/1 Tamil/1 Telugu/Select 1/Select 2 HD), five from Sony (Sony Sports Ten 1/2/3/4/5 HD) and also Sports18 1 HD from Viacom18, Eurosport HD from Warner Bros. Discovery and the recently launched DD Sports HD from Doordarshan which remains exclusive to Tata Play among pay DTH operators — even though Dish TV (more precisely the NSS6/SES8 satellites for non-South Indian customers) manages to get it unofficially from DD Free Dish due to the closeness of their satellites.
Thus far, Sun Direct was the only DTH platform to carry Sony Sports Ten 4 HD — launched in mid-2021 along with its SD version — but it was also the only one not to carry its Hindi counterpart Sony Sports Ten 3 HD. Hence Tata Play has become the first DTH operator to carry all five HD channels from the Sony Sports Network — and by extension all 10 HD channels from Sony Pictures Networks India, now officially known as Culver Max Entertainment. This comes as Sony’s long-delayed merger with Zee is finally about to conclude in January 2024, as top executives from both companies prepare to create a giant that is capable of competing with the colossus formed from the impending merger of Disney Star and Reliance/Jio/Viacom18 — with sports (which was, ironically, mostly acquired from Zee itself) being one of Sony’s biggest strengths.
Moreover, this addition of Sony Sports Ten 4 HD means that Tata Play carries most of the Telugu HD channels currently on air, except Gemini Music HD — available on Airtel Digital TV and its home platform, Sun Direct — and ETV Plus HD and ETV Cinema HD, which along with the multilingual kids’ channel ETV Bal Bharat HD are not carried by even a single DTH operator. For Tamil, Tata Play carries almost all satellite HD channels — including Jaya HD, where other DTH operators carry only the SD version — except the newly launched DD Tamil HD, but even this may very well be added to Tata Play in the near future, since DD Sports HD, DD India HD and DD National HD were all added in November 2023.
|DD Sports HD
|Star Sports Select 2 HD
|Sports18 1 HD
|Star Sports 1 HD
|Sony Sports Ten 1 HD
|Star Sports 2 HD
|Sony Sports Ten 2 HD
|Star Sports 1 Telugu HD
|Star Sports 1 Hindi HD
|Sony Sports Ten 3 HD (Hindi)
|Star Sports 1 Tamil HD
|Star Sports Select 1 HD
|Sony Sports Ten 5 HD
formerly Sony Six HD
|Sony Sports Ten 4 HD
Sony’s HD channels: few in number, but of great importance in the Zee merger
At a broader level, Sony’s five HD sports channels consist of half of the broadcaster’s HD portfolio. The remaining five Sony HD channels are the Hindi GECs (general entertainment channels) Sony TV HD and Sony Sab HD, the Hindi movie channel Sony Max HD, the English movie channel Sony Pix HD and the factual entertainment (knowledge or infotainment) channel Sony BBC Earth HD. Many more were operated in the past but were shuttered by the time the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, all of which were niche channels: Sony ESPN HD and Sony Ten Golf HD (sports), Sony Le Plex HD (premium English movies), AXN HD (English GEC) and Sony Rox HD (Hindi music) — with Sony having completely pulled out of the last two genres, allowing Viacom18 to dominate.
Furthermore, it has decided against launching an HD feed for Sony Marathi — one of only two Sony regional channels before the Zee merger, alongside Sony Aath in Bengali — unlike other broadcasters which have all launched HD feeds for their new regional channels, most recently Sun Bangla HD and Sun Marathi HD, which were onboarded on Tata Play barely days after their soft-launch. (This may be partly because Marathi is the single regional language with the maximum number of regional channels from Zee and Sony combined, so it may not be a sensible decision to keep so many of them running, particularly as some are struggling.)
Sports remains crucial for not only Sony but Zee as well, in the face of the Disney Star–Reliance merger
This means that sports plays an increasingly important role for Sony in its merger with Zee. Despite not having top-tier properties like the IPL or ICC and BCCI events that Star Sports/Disney+ Hotstar and Sports18/JioCinema do, the Sony Sports Network covers a broad range of sports across genres and interests with much greater breadth than the cricket-centric Star Sports. In contrast, Zee does not have any sports channels currently, having sold all its Ten Sports-branded channels to Sony in 2017 — though the ILT20 cricket tournament in the UAE is being broadcast on movie channels like Zee Cinema, &pictures, &flix and Zee Cinemalu, in addition to the lifestyle channel Zee Zest — but the merger will mean that Sony’s sports channels will return to where they originally began as Ten Sports.
Zee, of course, has as many as 19 HD channels across several languages and genres: 9 GECs (2 in Hindi), 9 movie channels (3 in Hindi, 2 in English) and Zee Zest HD in lifestyle. Together, the combined entity will boast 29 HD channels, but this is less than Disney Star’s 31 HD channels currently, not even taking into account the 13 — excluding History TV18 HD and CNBC-TV18 Prime HD — that will come as a result of its merger with Reliance/Viacom18. However, even though Sony’s total of five HD sports channels pales in front of seven from Star Sports and another from Sports18 — notwithstanding the fact that Zee may also consider launching its own sports channels again, should Disney Star’s sub-licensing of ICC rights to Zee still remain valid — it still provides crucial competition to the gigantic, all-powerful combination of Disney Star with Viacom18.
This is all the more reason why Tata Play’s addition of the Tamil/Telugu-language Sony Sports Ten 4 HD is a necessary addition, as not only does it fill the last remaining gap in the DTH operator’s sports portfolio — in fact, it was supposed to be added along with the addition of several other HD channels in October–December 2023 — but it also helps to expand the distribution of the channel as it was very limited (only Sun Direct among DTH operators) till now. Moreover, it provides Tamil and Telugu viewers an alternative to the dedicated Star Sports 1 Tamil and Telugu HD channels — launched in March 2023, nearly two years after Sony Sports Ten 4 HD in June 2021 — with dedicated regional analysis and commentary, more than what a single audio feed on a main sports channel can provide.
Such small but noteworthy decisions will be part of the mega-merger of Zee and Sony, and as the country waits with bated breath for a final decision in January 2024 — amid several reports of leadership decisions threatening to derail the merger altogether — the successful completion of this union will prove to be all the difference when dealing with the superpower produced from the fusion of Disney Star, India’s largest and most popular TV broadcaster, with the media arm (consisting of Viacom18, JioCinema and others) of the Ambani family’s Reliance Industries, one of the world’s most renowned conglomerates.