There are many free-to-air channels present on state-owned DD Free Dish but the same channels are paid and require subscription on all pay DTH and Cable platforms. Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV along with other DPOs have said that this is a highly discriminatory practice and does not give a level playing field.
Both operators that together account for about 60% of the total Indian paid DTH market share have come forward to raise this issue with the telecom regulator. Other pay DTH and cable operators are also unhappy with the practice of FTA channels being chargeable to their customers.
Under the TRAI’s new tariff order (NTO), broadcaster bouquets or packages can only include paid channels, not free ones. Hence, to club FTA channels in bouquets, broadcasters decided to charge a small amount, mostly around Rs 1 for such channels. MRP of pay channels is supposed to be uniform across all platforms, however, being a free service provider, DD Free Dish does not come under the tariff framework.
Broadcasters bid in regularly held auctions by Prasar Bharati for slots on DD Free Dish and they provide their channels to DDFD as free to air. Whereas, they charge other distribution platform operators (DPOs) to get the right to distribute these same channels to their customers.
According to Economic Times, on such pricing, Harit Nagpal, MD & CEO of Tata Sky said, “There are 20 channels now, which are part of pay bouquets of these broadcasters and have an a la carte pricing between Rs 0.10 to Rs 5 per month. If my subscriber wants these channels, she must pay, but for Free Dish users, they are free. There is no level playing field.”
Can we compare DD Free Dish with pay platforms?
DD Free Dish is a completely free service provider where users are not supposed to pay a single penny to watch available channels, it is mostly used in low-income households that can’t afford to pay at least Rs 153 per month on entertainment. On the other hand, paid DPOs are used by middle to high-income households who can spend more than that amount on their entertainment needs. Even if these FTA channels become free on pay platforms, savings from their subscription cost won’t be significant and pay users will still have to pay a mandatory Network Capacity Fee (NCF) of Rs 153 each month.
Currently, DD Free Dish is offering 161 channels out of which 20 are paid channels. The number of pay channels on this platform has been increasing since broadcasters are finding it attractive as they get more advertising revenue with the increased viewership. This has worried paid DPOs because they are losing their customers to DD Free Dish.