DD-DIRECT TO HIT HOMES ON AUG 15

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Come August 15 and the average TV viewer in the country can really declare independence - from cablewallahs and subscription channels.

A 'soft launch' of DD-Direct, the direct-to-home services of the national broadcaster with a bouquet of 17 channels is expected to be launched less than a month from now.

While DD-Direct would compete with Zee-affiliate ASC Enterprises' Dish TV, will there be space for a third player? Star's DTH proposal - Space TV - may just have to cool its heels for a while.

Though the government's DTH policy does not restrict the number of DTH players, global experience has proved that just two players can survive. Take for instance DirecTV and EchoStar in the US. Though Dish TV entered the DTH arena to serve the rural market, it has tiptoed into urban markets too. Reliable sources told ET that there is a similar Phase II plan for DD-Direct as well.

This means that sharing of content would be imperative. In India, there is no regulator for the broadcasting sector as yet.

The Trai, which is going into issues of interconnection and vertical monopolies, is expected to give its recommendations on "must provide" clauses for services like DTH. ASC Enterprises is still struggling to get private pay channels on board, while Star is awaiting its license before participating on other platforms.

Meanwhile, DD is getting into the act. Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma says, "The DD-Direct platform would initially comprise 17 DD channels. We are negotiating with private broadcasters to get their FTA channels on board."

Apparently, 12 such channels have volunteered to clamber onto DD-Direct. This includes Star Utsav, Jain TV, Care TV, Raj TV (Telugu, Tamil), Sun TV (Tamil), Alpha (Bangla), MH1 (Punjabi), Kairali and Surya (Malayalam).

DD, which was expecting a better response, is holding out for more channels like ETV, SabTV, Sahara and the like. Though DD waived the carriage fee for two years (bringing the fee down from Rs 2 crore to Rs 72 lakh - for technology costs alone), the response continues to be lukewarm.

This has forced the public broadcaster to do a rethink on allowing news channels aboard. Aaj Tak and Headlines Today have since agreed to join the Direct platform. Eventually, DD hopes to have 41 channels on DD-Direct.

A difficult proposition if a strong player like Star jumps into the ring, unless there are clear norms in place.

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