<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The commercialisation of Doordarshan (DD) Direct service, run by Prasar Bharati, which entails lending transponders of its high power satellite to private players, has come a cropper. Touted as a profitable venture that would attract revenues, the scheme has in fact cost the central and state exchequer a hefty amount of Rs 4,785.6 crore in just two years. It has also indirectly helped private channels to avoid taxes.The DD Direct (now also called DD Free Dish) was primarily started as a free platform in the year 2002 to deliver Doordarshan channels to viewers spread across vast hinterlands of India where the reach of terrestrial transmitters was limited.What began as a noble initiative was soon lost in sight as DD Direct began commercialisation of its services by auctioning the slots to private channels. The capacity of the platform was increased to 80 channels by adding more transponders. The commercialisation was projected by Doordarshan as a profitable venture, as the auction prices increased to about Rs 4.3 crore per channel by the beginning of year 2017 and later were fixed at Rs 8 crore after there was a hue and cry about cartelisation.However, an analysis of the real facts reveals that in reality Doordarshan had caused itself a great harm by promoting private channels which moved the entire viewership base to these channels, in effect causing loss of hundreds of crores to Doordarshan by virtue of fall in its ratings and consequently advertising revenues. These facts came to light only after the BARC started rural ratings in 2016-17.Documents available with the DNA suggest that while private channels after paying a paltry amount of Rs 4 to Rs 6 crore per annum to get hooked to the transponder garnered advertisement revenue to the tune of Rs 2,500 crores per annum, the advertisement revenue of DD nose-dived from Rs 1,301 crore in 2014-15 to a paltry Rs 475.7 crore in 2016-17. The model dictates that private channels do not have to share advertising revenue with the operating platform. But what is more intriguing is that after offering them the platform, viewership of DD has also shifted to these private channels, leaving the public broadcaster in out the lurch.To decipher the DD revenue model further, out of Rs 475.7 crore, government ads contributed Rs 318.06. Thus the actual revenue garnered comes to just Rs 157.59 crore, taking the loss in advertising revenue to a whopping Rs 826 crore. In 2015-16, Prasar Bharati also received grants worth Rs 2,734 crore from the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry, which was raised to Rs 3,108 crore in 2016-17. TV Audience Measurement BARC data also reveals that the top rated 15 channels on DD Free Dish platform had gross rating point (GRP) of 50 to 80 while DD Channels rated between 0 and 3.Audited figures also show equally quantifiable losses arising due to license fees for DTH and taxes. The free channels available on DD Free Dish platform have led to migration of customers from Licensed DTH platforms to DD Direct. As per data available and also quantified by TRAI, a total minimum of 30 million customers had become inactive on Pay DTH platforms as on December 2016 and moved to free DTH. While the Pay DTH platforms are subject to license fees at 10% (now reduced to 8%) and other taxes ranging between 20-40%, the private players hooked to DD Direct are spared from paying despite netting huge revenues. As per estimates, losses amounted to Rs 1,941.5 crores in 2015-16 and Rs 2,844.1 crores in 2016-17. Therefore, DD Direct has also indirectly helped private channels avoid taxes which they would have paid, if they were hooked to normal DTH platforms.Industry watchers say, while those deciding to commercialise DD Direct might had good motives, but they soon lost sight by auctioning the slots to private channels and keeping the platform Free-To-Air (FTA). “The commercialisation by auctions has garnered DD Direct meagre revenues (as compared to loss in advertising), but it has had the effect of pushing private TV channels upfront to tens of millions of viewers relegating the interest of Prasar Bharti and Doordarshan to the background and losses which are now running at Rs 3,000 crores per annum and viewership of DD reduced to near zero,” a DD official told DNA on the condition of anonymity.All DTH platforms in India operate under a DTH License as per the DTH Licensing Policy which was enacted in 2001 after the prohibition on the reception and distribution of television signal in Ku Band was withdrawn by the government. Being a government-owned platform, the DD Direct operates without any license, which was appropriate so far as it was carrying Doordarshan channels (a public service platform). Industry players say that after full commercialisation of DD-Direct, there is no justification for the platform to operate without any license. “When it no longer behaved as public service provider, the policy amounted to disturbing the level playing field hitting the revenues of those paying taxes and operating fairly,” said a private TV operator. Interestingly, DD Direct carries just 24 DD channels as against 56 private channels, who are essentially being funded by pubic money – enabling them to avoid license fees and the GST.Doordarshan holds an e-auction once every couple of months to award vacant channel slots on DD Free Dish to private broadcasters. At present, the platform carries 80 channels, including private entertainment channels like Star Utsav, Sony Pal, Zee Anmol, Rishtey and news channels like Aaj Tak, ABP News and News 24. Recently the I&B Ministry decided to review the channel slot auction process of state broadcaster Doordarshan’s free-to-air direct-to-home (DTH) platform DD Free Dish. The last e-auction took place in July, in which Doordarshan had earned Rs 85.10 crore and awarded 11 channel slots to private broadcasters.”Doordarshan had caused itself a great harm by promoting private channels which moved the entire viewership base to these channels, in effect causing loss of hundreds of crores to Doordarshan by virtue of fall in its ratings and consequently advertising revenues,” a source in DD said.