The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has 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 ministry has asked the broadcaster to suspend e-auctioning of slots on DD Free Dish until further notice, two people familiar with the development said. 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. Another auction scheduled for August was cancelled by the broadcaster, citing administrative reasons.

The ministry has not given any reason behind this sudden decision. The slots on the platform are getting vacant and private broadcasters are not able to renew those. Prasar Bharati has been refusing renewal since August.

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. So far, the platform has two vacant slots but the number will increase to ten by the end of this month if no decision is taken by the ministry.

An emailed query to the I&B ministry seeking comment went unanswered. Shashi Shekhar Vempati, chief executive officer at Prasar Bharati did not respond to calls and text messages.

For the year 2016-17, Doordarshan earned more than 30 percent of its revenue from Free Dish at Rs 264.17 crore, the highest-ever revenue earned from the platform. Overall, the broadcaster earned Rs 827.51 crore in the year ended 31 March, surpassing its annual target of Rs 800 crore.

Industry executives believe that this move will jeopardize the smooth partnership between private broadcasters and DD Free Dish. There is an untapped rural market which can only be tapped through Free Dish. By stopping this abruptly, the government is jeopardizing the commercial viability of the platform. This uncertain situation is not in the interest of private broadcasters as they earn a lot of ad revenue from Free Dish. Rather, this concerns multiple stakeholders including advertisers and viewers. - Live Mint