Star India has continued its vexing policy to challenge and stall every TRAI order through a court of law. Last month, they challenged the TRAI's proposed draft tariff order even before it was formulised and declared! The TRAI was in fact responding to instructions ..........
104 FREEDISH CHANNELS BY MARCH
FreeDish is Doordarshan's 'DTH' platform. It was created to deliver all of Doordarshan's channels, to the public, FTA, via Ku Band downlinking.
By prevalent law, Doordarshan who is a broadcaster is not eligible to a DTH license! Hence FreeDish operates without a DTH license.
Atleast technically, FreeDish has been referred to as merely a Ku Band downlink service.
The service was earlier called DD Direct Plus & commenced on the NSS-6 satellite at 95 degrees East. It subsequently shifted to the INSAT-4 satellite at 93.5 degrees East.
HUGE SALE OF MPEG-2 STBS
FreeDish became hugely popular, since viewers could buy an FTA MPEG-2 satellite receiver and receive the service with no monthly charge. Several million FTA MPEG-2 satellite receivers were imported from China, and even manufactured locally to meet the demand. The receivers were a commodity item and competition drove prices down to a rock bottom of less than Rs. 650.
FreeDish rode this success and commenced auctioning carriage of channels, to private Free-To- Air (FTA) channels. There was a clamour of carriage on FreeDish, with some pay channels even turning FTA to gain carriage on the FTA Ku band downlink platform.
FreeDish currently receives an auction price of over Rs. 5 Crores per channel per year, which is more than 10 times the transponder cost. FreeDish auctions have proved to be a financial bonanza for cash strapped Doordarshan.
The only disadvantage for Doordarshan was that it does not have any means of estimating the actual number of FreeDish viewers. Current guesstimates are 20 million users.
FreeDish currently provides 80 TV channels + 30 radio stations through MPEG-2 FTA STBs.
This is now being enhanced to 104 SDTV channels + 40 radio stations, with the introduction of new MPEG-4, DVB-S2 stream.
Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had earlier informed the Lok Sabha that the equipment for upgrade of FreeDish for telecast of 112 TV channels had been installed.
Former I&B minister Arun Jaitley had said that FreeDish would get additional transponder capacity on GSAT-15 to enhance its capacity to 250 channels as part of the approved 12th Plan. The Department of Space (DoS) had agreed in principle to provide additional transponders on the new GSAT-15 satellite required for upgrade to 250 TV channels, Jaitley had said.
SHIFT TO MPEG-4
To keep up with the skyrocketing demand for FreeDish carriage, FreeDish is being expanded to ultimately offer 250 TV channels. Additional Ku band transponders have already been allotted to Doordarshan on the GSAT-15 satellite located at 93.5 degrees East.
To service its existing user base of 20 million MPEG-2 homes, the existing MPEG-2 service will continue. However, all new channels will utilise MPEG-4 compression to squeeze more TV channels per satellite transponder.
MPEG-4 encrypted testing has commenced on a GSAT-15 transponder @ 11630 MHz, Vertical polarisation.
Surprisingly, for these tests, FreeDish has deployed Videoguard encryption.
Earlier declared plans were to deploy the Indian Government's iCAS encryption. Infact, Doordarshan has even floated tenders in October 2016, to empanel iCAS, MPEG-4 local STB manufacturers, for FreeDish. A clause in the tender also specified that the consumer price for these should not exceed Rs. 2,000.
When participating in the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union's first edition of the international television film festival, hosted by Prasar Bharati in Hyderabad in January, Doordarshan's Director General - Ms Supriya Sahu confirmed that it will provide 104 channels by end March 2017.
"FreeDish at present has 20 million subscribers, and is the marketshare leader among the 7 DTH players in the country," she said.
"The new initiative is that we are introducing conditional access system in our STBs. We are getting into a new technology which is MPEC-4. So, by March-end, we will be coming out with new STBs for Doordarshan, enhancing the number of existing channels from 80 to 104," Sahu told the press.
With encryption, each STB will be accounted for, and FreeDish hopes that this will provide it a clear indication of the number of STBs deployed. This figure in turn will help establish viewership and gain higher ad revenues by DD channels and the private sector channels on the platform.
There is no indication, yet, that the encrypted STBs will be used to deploy Pay TV channels, and collect pay revenues.
ENCRYPTION: HUGE GAMBLE?
The only function of encrypting the FreeDish MPEG-4 STBs is to quantify the number of users. Seasoned industry observers feel that this is a huge error. The FreeDish service skyrocketed to popularity because of the widespread and easy availability of FTA STBs in the unorganised retail sector. This provided easy access to STBs, at extremely low prices even in rural markets.
Doordarshan's aim to now structure and qualify the STB manufacturing and sales can only drive up prices, reduce competition and inhibit the easy availability of STBs in the rural market.
Will FreeDish kill the goose that laid golden eggs, by deploying only encrypted STBs & TV Channels, in future? n