Indrani Sen: Free Dish ki Ajeeb Kahani

28 Aug,2017

By Indrani Sen


After BARC extended its TV measurement service to rural India, the major TV houses have been fighting for share of rural TV audiences which is 52% of the total TV audience. The strategic warfare for winning “Bharat” seems to have shifted to the battleground of free Dish TV offered by Doordarshan as it is estimated that 74% of its subscribers comes from rural areas. Strangely, our industry does not have a correct estimate of the number of subscribers of DD Free Dish, though everyone agrees that the number is higher than the subscribers of Dish TV and Tata Sky, the two leading private DTH operators with 25% and 23% share respectively.


It is difficult to estimate the number of subscribers of DD Free Dish as the set top box and the dish antenna are sold in open market through various retail outlets and DD does not charge any fees for subscription. In spite of such confusion in accountability, private channels continue to avail of the platform for reaching out to the rural and semi-urban audiences.


Three days back, the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) refused to issue an injunction based on the complaint lodged by Dish TV and Videocon d2h to stop Star TV from re-launching its free to air channel Life OK as Star Bharat on DD Free Dish platform. TDSAT has directed Star TV to reply to the complaint in writing within four weeks, after which Dish TV and Videocon d2h will get another 2 weeks to respond. To relaunch Life OK as Star Bharat seems to be a strategic move by Star to get higher share of the rural TV Audience through DD Free Dish.


In BARC Week 33, the Top 10 GEC channels in the rural market were Zee Anmol, Sony Pal, Rishtey, Star Utsav and Big Magic apart from the biggies Zee TV, Colors, Star Plus, Sony Sab and Life OK. The four flagship channels of Zee, Star, Viacom18 and Sony are not available on DD Free Dish, but their second-liners Zee Anmol, Star Utsav, Sony Pal and Rishtey, available on DD Free Dish, are thriving in the rural market and attracting more audience than their respective flagship channels. There is keen competition among the GEC channels in the rural market and the top ten rankings keep fluctuating almost in every week. Life OK, which is already featuring among the Top 10 channels in rural market, will surely do better if available through DD Free Dish. The strategic move may help Star to improve on its performance in the rural market with combined offerings of Star Utsav and Star Bharat on DD Free Dish.  It will be interesting to watch the next move by Zee on DD Free Dish for protecting the rural market share of Zee Anmol.  Zee TV currently is also enjoying higher weekly impressions than Star Plus and Color in the rural market.


In a recent article “DD Live Dish Phenomenon”, Mint highlighted the revenue DD has been earning from auction of free time slots in DD Free Dish as a measure of its success. In FY 2016-17, Doordarshan’s revenue from the DD Free Dish was Rs. 264.17 crore which was 47% higher than the previous year ( phenomenon.html).  The revenue from DTH platform was also 67% higher than the advertising revenue of Rs. 157.59 crores earned by Doordarshan from private sector advertising in 2016-17. Currently, it is a win-win relationship between DD Free Dish and private channels riding on it. The content of the private channels helps in increasing the subscribers of DD Free Dish, while the footprint of the Public DTH operator helps the private channels to secure better viewership which attracts more advertising revenue.


DD Free Dish started its journey in 2204 with an offering of three channels. It gradually spread its wingsover next ten years. The spectacular growth happened after BARC went rural in 2015. Currently, it offers a mix of 80 channels including the private entertainment and news channels. Doordarshan has upgraded its transmission and plans to add 24 more channels and take the offerings to 100 plus channels. Apart from the variety of channels and attractive content, the compulsory digitization of the cable channels leading to the closure of all analog cable transmission along with the poor quality of transmission and fewer channels offered by the digital cable operators in small towns and villages are accelerating the growth of DD Free Dish.


The Mint article quoted BARC estimated DD Free Dish subscribers as 22 million. Some industry sources believe that the actual number of subscribers of DD Free Dish is much higher than 22 million and it would be fair to assume that it has around 25% share of the total DTH subscribers’ universe. In January 2017, data released by TRAI showed 94.61 million subscribers of the six private DTH operators ( and 65.42% of them are active users. The article gave 20 million plus as users of DD Free Dish. However, if we assume that DD Free Dish has a 25% share of the total DTH market, then it should be having 30/31 million subscribers with private DTH channels having 75% of the share (94.61 million) of the total DTH market of 125 million subscribers.


The above estimate tallies with the EY report “India’s Free TV- A game Changing Opportunity” (—entertainment/ey-indias-free-tv) published in July, 2017. EY has not only placed the Public DTH provider as the largest DTH distributer, but also has estimated the Free TV households as 30 million in 2016 and has projected 46 million subscribers by 2020. This estimate has surpassed all other estimates made by various other sources about the number of subscribers of DD Free Dish.


Source: India’s Free TV- A Game Changing Opportunity by EY


During the last week, Supreme Court ruled that Prasar Bharati can only carry the shared feed of sporting events on terrestrial network or DD Free Dish. In other words, Prasar Bharati cannot utilise the sports feed on a notified DD channel which is mandatory for the private distribution platforms. This ruling has come shortly after Star Sports announced in June 2017 its decision to launch the first Free to Air sports channel ‘Star Sports First’ on DD Free Dish. Some price conscious sports lovers, who currently subscribe to private DTH platforms, will surely shift in future to DD Free Dish, particularly in the Hindi Speaking Markets. DD Free Dish is indeed changing the game of broadcasting and will go down in the history as the major catalyst in the growth of TV penetration in India, particularly in the rural sector.


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