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Zee handed DTH lead on videshi rival

New Delhi, July 29: A Zee-backed company has become the first entity to receive the government’s green signal to start direct-to-home (DTH) television broadcast.

DTH involves the installation of a dish antenna of 60 to 90 cm radius and a set-top box at the subscriber’s end to receive television signals transmitted from satellite.

Zee’s immediate response to the government decision is that it will roll out DTH from September 1, also the date set by the government to kick off the phased introduction of the conditional access system (CAS) in the four metros. It said it would start both on that day, if it received all clearances.

“We will offer the DTH service in non-cable areas and in stand-alone houses,” Zee/Siticable’s Jawahar Goel said.

In the current political calculus of media wars, the decision is a fillip to the “swadeshi” lobby over the “videshi”.

Although CAS and DTH are not necessarily competitive platforms, today’s decision puts Subhash Chandra’s Zee firmly ahead of its main rival, Rupert Murdoch’s STAR, at this stage. The application of a STAR-promoted DTH company, Space Television, is pending.

“DTH can cover not only the whole country but all Saarc countries. We envisage CAS and DTH as complementary services,” Goel said.

Under CAS, the set-top box with the subscriber filters pay channels delivered by cable.

An advantage of the DTH technology over CAS is that it is non-proprietory, meaning a subscriber can use the same equipment if moving from one place to another only with a change of the card that is to be slotted into the box. The CAS regime being rolled out now offers less mobility because the set-top box supplied by an operator in one locality may not necessarily work in another. But DTH can be more expensive.

Goel said Zee/Siticable’s total investment in its CAS and DTH projects will be around Rs 400 crore. He refused to give a break-up.

Union information and broadcasting ministry sources said ASC Enterprises, promoted by Zee, has been asked to deposit Rs 10 crore for a letter of intent to clear its DTH service.

Zee will now have to provide a 10-year bank guarantee for Rs 40 crore. It has appealed to the government requesting that it be allowed to offer a renewable bank guarantee instead of locking in the entire amount for a long time. The company expects to get the sanctions in a month.

The sources said the application from the STAR-promoted company was given a provisional nod some months ago but it has not yet progressed to the stage of making a deposit of Rs 10 crore for the letter of intent. Space TV’s application was challenged in court but STAR sources claim that has now been settled.

In a statement in Parliament earlier, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had mentioned a third aspirant, Essel Shyam Communication, a joint venture between Zee and Shyam Telecom. Ministry sources could not give a status report on this application.

Information available with the ministry on the cost of DTH services to the subscriber varies widely. The ministry has a projection from STAR — which puts the price of the equipment (dish and box) at Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 and subscription fees at Rs 700 to Rs 800 per month.

Jawahar Goel of Zee/Siticable said his DTH would cost Rs 3,500 for the equipment and subscription fees in slabs beginning from Rs 150 per month.

Given STAR’s tortuous experience with its application for uplinking, it is likely that its DTH proposal, too, will face similar scrutiny. The DTH guidelines issued in March 2001 put a cap on total foreign investment at 49 per cent, inclusive of foreign direct investment not exceeding 20 per cent.

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