New Delhi: As the government prepares for the second batch of Phase-3 radio frequency auctions due in September, several big FM radio operators like HT Media Ltd, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd and Music Broadcast Ltd have decided to stay away from the process.

According to the applicant ownership details released by the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry on Tuesday, the government received a total of 15 applications, with a majority of the large FM radio operators refraining from participation. In the first set of auctions that concluded in September 2015, 28 companies had applied to participate in the auction of 135 FM channels across 69 cities.

In the second batch, the ministry had invited applications to the auction of 266 private FM radio frequencies across 92 cities. Out of this, 227 will be auctioned in 69 new cities and the balance 39 frequencies in cities where FM radio stations already exist. The application process ended on 1 August.

Among those who have applied to take part in the auction are Abhijit Realtors and Infraventures Ltd, JCL Infra Ltd, The Mathrubhumi Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd, The Sun group which will be participating through its subsidiaries Kal Radio Ltd and South Asia FM Ltd, and Entertainment Network (India) Ltd (ENIL), which operates Radio Mirchi, among others.

Another application from M/s Agrani Homes Pvt. Ltd was rejected by the ministry because of the company’s failure to provide certain documents along with the application form.

Radio broadcasting companies attributed their absence to the high reserve prices of the frequencies. “The prices are high and it is not a part of our strategy to enter into smaller towns," said Harshad Jain, chief executive officer, Radio & Entertainment, HT Media, which publishes Hindustan Times and Mint.

Among cities where radio frequencies have been put up for e-auction are Hyderabad, Asansol, Amravati, Dehradun, Ujjain, Jhansi and Mysuru.

HT Media operates Fever 104 FM and Radio Nasha. The company had acquired 10 new frequencies in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and several towns of Uttar Pradesh in the first batch of Phase-3 auctions.

Tarun Katial, CEO of Reliance Broadcast Network, which runs 92.7 BIG FM radio channel, agreed. “The reserve prices have made it very difficult to make a justifiable business case with the requisite amount of investments to create quality content and generate employment in tier 2 and tier 3 towns," he said.

According to Prashant Panday, chief executive at ENIL, the radio broadcasting unit of Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, there are certain issues with the Phase-3 policy which need to be addressed.

“Our participation in the auctions will be limited," he said. ENIL won 17 licences in the first batch of the Phase-3 auctions.

The ministry is still reviewing the applications received for the second batch. Applicants have been asked to submit an ownership compliance certificate by 22 August.

The ministry will conclude the pre-qualification process for the bidders by 1 September.

(HT Media Ltd competes with Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd in several markets.)