Home/ Industry / Media/  News channels’ return to Free Dish draws mixed response

NEW DELHI : The decision of news broadcasters to return on Prasar Bharati’s free direct-to-home (DTH) platform DD Free Dish has drawn a mixed response from industry insiders. A section of industry analysts said the mass reach and guaranteed eyeballs of the free distribution medium cannot be denied, especially in a year when India will witness several assembly polls and Lok Sabha elections in 2024. There is no option for channels but to take to Free Dish if they want to be seen as a national player, they added.

However, considering that the Indian market is cluttered with far too many mediums of paid and free distribution platforms, the 199 crore paid by the 12 news channels for slots, can only bring in incremental advertising, and will not make radical difference, others said.

Free Dish constitutes 38% of the reach for all national news channels. “Presence on Free Dish is not optional. A channel wanting to be a national player has no choice but to be there. In our genre, reach is everything," said a senior executive of a news network.

He agreed that the free-to-air category that brings in rural ratings is crucial in an election year.

Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Rajasthan are slated to go to polls this year. Besides, the general elections, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Odisha will also have state elections in 2024.

Initially, many news broadcasters, which are part of two industry lobby groups, News Broadcasters Federation and News Broadcasters and Digital Association had refused to be a part of the Free Dish auctions, citing prohibitive costs, availability of few slots and absence of a scientific basis to calculate the number of viewers under DD Free Dish. Subsequently, a few channels forced others to join the auctions.

“With an estimated subscriber base of 43-45 million, which is more skewed to rural areas, DD Free has a big advantage of increasing the reach of any broadcaster in this region, said Chandrashekhar Mantha, partner, Deloitte India.

“As there is no monthly subscription to be paid and only a one-time investment to buy the set top box and a receiver, viewers in rural areas are specifically attracted to DD Free Dish. A broadcaster’s presence on this platform can certainly increase viewership and rating as long as the content library is good," he added.

If rural viewership improves, so will the ad rates. India has a large product and advertiser segment that is rural-focused, he said.

“News is a habit-forming genre and the advantage of a free medium is the stickiness and longevity it comes with. Unlike a paid channel or subscription-based OTT platform, viewers are likely to continue to watch a couple of free channels they are used to," Ashish Bhasin, co-founder and chairman of global advertising and marketing transformation startup RD&X Network, said.

Bhasin said most advertisers always follows eyeballs, and big brands in FMCG, auto and e-commerce are undoubtedly looking for maximum reach, including in tier-two and three cities and rural areas.

That said, industry experts are concerned about the ability of news channels to recoup their investments from these auctions. In the last auctions, news channels had spent just over 106 crore. The amount is now up by almost 100%.

A media buyer said seeking anonymity that final ad rates are based on GRPs (gross rating points: a common metric in traditional ad buying that measures the impact of a given ad campaign), and not simply reach. “With the number of direct-to-home and multi-system operators competing in the market, increase in advertising (thanks to the presence on Free Dish) will only be incremental. It’s not like a Zee Anmol will start commanding the same rates as Colors or Star Plus," he added. 

The free-to-air market is very overcrowded, Karan Taurani, senior vice president at Elara Capital Ltd agreed: “It’s a winner takes all scenario with much advantage only to large broadcasters who can cross-sell the slots."

Vibhu Agarwal, founder and chief executive officer of Atrangii TV said while channels go to FTA for visibility, ad revenues aren't guaranteed as much. "Plus, there are channels who are established in that free market for years and it is difficult for any new player to grab eyeballs and engagement," Agarwal added.

Lata Jha
Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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Updated: 28 Mar 2023, 12:10 AM IST
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