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DD Freedish e-auction: News channels plan to tread cautiously this time

Unlike previous years, when the bidding amount used to jack up beyond sustainable levels, this time around news players are more cautious about bidding for the MPEG-2 slots of the DD Freedish DTH platform

E-auction of MPEG-2 slots of Prasar Bharati’s DD Freedish DTH platform kicked off Monday. Auctioning of slots for Bucket C, which includes Hindi, English and Punjabi news channels is taking place Tuesday onwards.

This year, despite a new entrant on the block - Times Now Navbharat- most of the news players who ended up paying skyrocketing and unaffordable prices last year are planning to observe restraint.

While the fear of missing out has been one of the major reasons for news channels to bid at a high price in the beginning, it is less likely that any channel would be denied a slot because of unavailability.

There are around 13-14 Hindi news channels participating in the auction for the period from April 1, 2022, to March 31, 2023, through the annual e-auction process (58th e-auction).

Altogether, DD Freedish reaches 40 million households, which is about 15% of the total TV households in the country and mostly bottom-of-the-pyramid users from rural India. The MPEG-2 slots carry channels in Standard Definition (SD) and are available to all the subscribers of DD Freedish.

A long-time media observer told, “Although there is fear of scarcity of slots because of entry of new players in the bidding game, there is no reason for anyone to believe that they will be left out. If the pubcaster will announce that there are 15 slots available for news channels in the beginning, why would anyone bid? This is how the bidding is done. I have a sense that the news players will be very cautious this year and they would wait and watch how auctioning pans out instead of rushing into buying slots at higher prices.”

A spokesperson from a news channel, who didn’t want to be quoted, said that they would watch and wait until the end to bid for the slots. “This year, we don’t want to repeat our mistake of paying three times the base price,” he said.

Patience pays

During the 2021 e-auction of slots on DD Freedish, three channels paid roughly three times the reserved price of Rs 7 crore. News18 India paid Rs 22.05 crore, Republic Bharat had to shell out Rs 21.15 crore and Zee Hindustan spent Rs 20 crore during the e-auction.

News Nation paid Rs 18.55 crore, followed by TV9 Bharatvarsh which spent Rs 18.15 crore. Tez paid Rs 17.95 crore, ABP News had to shell out Rs 16.05 crore, Zee News bid for Rs 16 crore, Aaj Tak took the slot for Rs 15.35 crore. NDTV India and India TV spent Rs 12.85 crore and Rs 12.2 crore, respectively.

Channels such as NDTV India and India TV saved Rs 10 crore each by exercising patience and by prioritising business proposition.

Learning from bidding by other genres

Another media observer said, “Prasar Bharati follows the same process of bidding for GECs and Movies. Just like the news, there is always an intense competition among movies and the GECs genre, still, their bid is not beyond business proposition. But it is the news channels that end up spending between Rs 12-22 crore/slot to reach out to the audience with the least buying capacity, while the base price is as low as Rs 7 crore.”

Last year, Prasar Bharati had allocated a total of 57 slots to private channels. Under A+ Bucket, 10 Hindi GECs were allocated slots at an average price of Rs 15.675 crore where the reserve price was Rs 15 crore.

The 15 Movie channels got the slots at an average price of Rs 12.99 crore where the reserve price was Rs 12 crore.

In stark contrast, the News genre’s average bid price was Rs 17.3 crore against a reserve price of Rs 7 crore.

While the government earns close to Rs 800 crore every year through Freedish auctions, news channels pay a very high price for slots which does not guarantee an increase in ad rates, causing major financial stress to most of them.

Experts suggest that the TV news industry needs to be more mindful while bidding and needs better coordination with each other instead of just jumping in the intense bidding battle where everyone loses, eventually.

How the auction is conducted

To begin with, one has to pay Rs 1.5 crore as a participation fee and then Rs 25,000 processing fee. On the day of the bidding, the channel gets a link from Prasar Bharti and it opens a dashboard to the auction. The dashboard has details about the news channel, bid price, serial number of the slot that is up for auction and the channel’s rank. Once the channel enters the bid amount, the dashboard updates the channel’s rank as per its standing. While the rank is shown, the dashboard doesn’t show the number of slots, the bidders' names, which gives rise to speculation and increases prices.

As per the policy guidelines for the MPEG-2 slots, the TV channels are divided into six brackets on the basis of channel genres and reserve prices. There are a total of 80 slots divided into DD channels, private channels and reserved channels. In all there are a total of 40 slots available for auction, 37 slots go to DD Channels and 3 are reserved for sustaining diversity on the platform.

DD Freedish is the Direct to Home (DTH) service of Prasar Bharati for delivering TV service directly through satellite with a personal small dish antenna. It is India's only Free Direct-To-Home Service (with no monthly fee). Doordarshan started its DTH service as DD Direct+ in December 2004, which was renamed as DD Freedish on August 27, 2013. As per the Prasar Bharati website, at present, its capacity is 2 HD channels, 106 SDTV channels along with 48 radio channels.

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