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How DD Freedish’s opaque auction process has created a financial stress for news broadcasters

The news channels pay up to three times the reserve price to get a slot on DD Freedish. Broadcasters claim that if Prasar Bharati mentioned the number of slots available for news channels to bid, it would streamline the process and create a fairer playing ground

The opaque auction process of DD Freedish slots, conducted by Prasar Bharati, has created a financial burden for news broadcasters. 

The broadcasters claim that because of the public broadcaster not making the number of slots available for auction public, the prices of slots are being jacked up artificially. 

Experts say that the unavailability of the total number of slots creates a frenzy during the auction process and the channels end up bidding almost 3x the reserved price. 

Experts claim, that given that this year too the public broadcaster is not telling the news broadcasters about the number of slots available for them on the Freedish platform, the prices for slots are going to increase even further. 

The increased competition due to the entry of new players is going to cause a lot more panic. 

In the last auction for the MPEG-2 slots, there were channels bidding thrice the amount of the reserve price of Rs 7 crore, primarily because of an unclear number of total slots available for bidding.

India TV, bid Rs 12 crore and got the slot and News18, the highest bidder, bid Rs 22 crore in the same auction. There were two other channels that went above the Rs 20 crore mark, Republic Bharat at Rs 21.15 crore and Zee Hindustan with Rs 20 crore. The average spend was 17.3 crore.

On the other hand, a senior public affairs executive at a broadcast network defended the government's auction process.

"If the pubcaster will reveal that there are 15 slots for 15 news channels, why would anyone bid. When the bidding is not for a particular LCN or placement, it has to be done for slots in bunches. Some level of anxiety can only justify an auction," the executive.

How the auction is conducted 

“Firstly, you have to pay Rs 1.5 crore as the participation fee, then you pay Rs 25,000 for the processing fee. On the day of the bidding, you get a link from Prasar Bharti and it opens a dashboard to the auction,” a participant explained the auction process.

“The dashboard has details about your company, your bid price, serial number of the slot that is up for auction and your rank,” the expert added. “You enter the bid amount and it updates your rank as per your standing. So, if you’re the top bidder, you’re rank 1. But it doesn’t show how many slots will be available in all, who is bidding for the current slots, which gives rise to speculation and increases prices.”

So, it is unclear how many slots will be available in total, who is bidding for which slot and the channels depend on industry gossip to make crucial decisions.

“This unclarity bundled with external factors such as lack of availability of TRP ratings in the last couple of years, have driven the price so high. These slots are a resource of the country and should be auctioned in a transparent and open manner. Like the BCCI does for the IPL, you know which players will be up for auction, who is fighting for which player and which ones I know I can aim for. It clarifies a lot of the process.”

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 price. 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.

This year with the entry of two new channels, Times Now Navbharat and News India 24x7 likely to enter the auction table, there are going to be around 14-15 channels in the auction.

When reached out to Prasar Bharati for a comment, they guided us to the Policy Guidelines that govern these auctions. The guidelines do not mention any information about the categorisation of the available private slots or how many will be up for auction in a given year.

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