A week after it refused to waive the public broadcaster’s spectrum charges of over Rs 1,200 cr, the I&B ministry has now sent yet another reminder to Prasar Bharati to review the its DD Free Dish and revenue sharing policies, which it has said, needs to be made “transparent and economically viable,” and more importantly, has asked the latter “to not subsidise private channels that do not need concessions.”

Ministry officials said, starting from August last year several reminders have been sent to Prasar Bharati to review its policy on DD Free Dish— the free-to-air DTH (direct-to-home) platform— which has 22 million subscribers. A ministry official said the broadcaster has not replied to any of its six reminders sent in the last four months. The latest one was sent on Tuesday, officials said.

Union I&B minister Smriti Zubin Irani recently said that Doordarshan should leverage the reach created by DD Free Dish to create quality content and improve the revenue generation through advertisement and ease the burden on the taxpayers.

In a letter on March 26 to Prasar Bharati CEO, the ministry said: “It has been observed that DD Free Dish was subsidising private channels/ serial producers contrary to cabinet approval. DD Free Dish offered channels its service for as low as Rs 6-8 cr which does not cover the cost per channel that works out to approximately Rs 350 cr.” 

“Channels after paying Rs 6-8 cr are said to earn up to Rs 700 cr. The channels including Sony Mix, Star Bharat, Zee Anmol cinema should not qualify for subsidy,” the letter said. Currently, there are approximately 72 TV channels on Doordarshan’s DTH platform Free Dish. 

Currently there are approximately 72 TV channels on Doordarshan’s DTH platform Free Dish, including private general entertainment channels like Zee Anmol, Star Utsav, Sony Pal, Rishtey, and news channels like Aaj Tak. 

The ministry has also said in its reminders that Prasar Bharati should seriously consider the "TDSAT ( Telecom Disputes Settlement and Arbitration Tribunal) order dated October 27, 2017 that had advised the public broadcaster to carry out a comprehensive review of the policy of DD Free Dish. Officials said in the Prasar Bharati board meeting held on February 15, "Free Dish - the way forward was an agenda item. 

"Recognizing the limitation of the present arrangement it was suggested that these co-branded channels could be operated on a revenue share basis, this will ensure DD brand is not diluted and DD has a continuing stake in revenue growth..This limitation should have been identified when the Free-Dish was thrown open to private channels," the ministry's letter said. 
It added that the I&B ministry is not aware of the decision of the Prasar Bharati board meeting since the minutes of it have not been received. Officials in the public broadcaster confirmed to ET that minutes of the last meeting have not been drafted and approved till now.

Considering the Prasar Bharati act says a meeting should be held every quarter, it it is time for the next meeting but the minutes of the last one have still not been ratified," a board member said.

While Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati did not comment on the issue, an official in the public broadcaster on condition of anonymity said increasing differences between the ministry and Prasar Bharati were also spilling over on policy decisions. 

"Some feel a revenue-share formula with DD Free Dish may render the platform unviable for private channels. It is clear that the government wants to earn more revenue by reviewing its policy but knocking off private channels from the DD Free Dish platform might not be fair on users. Also, auction on the DTH platform was a revenue earner. The government is currently reviewing its policy," the official added.  – ET Bureau