The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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TV warms up for third leap
- Direct-to-home service enters final lap

New Delhi, Sept. 23: Television will take its third technological leap in India with direct-to-home (DTH) broadcast making its debut in the first week of October.

The first off the blocks is Zee, which was issued a licence last week. Next is Doordarshan and then STAR, which has indicated that it will be ready to roll in early 2004.

Zee will kick off its DTH operation in Delhi and gradually expand to other cities — its rollout plan should be known shortly.

First there was terrestrial transmission when you had to hoist a skeletal antenna on the rooftop to catch Doordarshan. Then came satellite and cable TV with channel clutter and the neighbourhood cable operator entering your life.

With DTH, there will be no intermediary between the viewer and the service provider. The service provider will reach the viewer through a dish antenna that will be set up at the customer’s end to receive the signal.

Zee-backed ASC Enterprises, which is expected to start its DTH service from October 2, will charge around Rs 5,000 for the dish and a set-top box. Monthly subscription is expected to begin from Rs 150.

STAR’s alternative service will be similar, with the equipment costing the same as Zee’s. The minimum monthly charge on STAR is not known but a modest combination of channels will cost around Rs 400.

In any case, the rates for the two services will be competitive, going up with the number of channels a subscriber chooses.

Estimates suggest that for the full mix of channels, DTH will cost Rs 800-1,000 a month.

Both service providers say they can offer 100 channels or even more — Zee claims the ability to beam up to 200.

Zee is believed to have tied up with all broadcasters other than STAR to offer their channels in its service.

STAR is tying up with the Tata-owned VSNL for DTH. Although it is yet to receive the licence, clearance should not pose a problem since, with the conditional access system for cable television in a mess, the DTH way of delivering signals in urban centres will be encouraged by the government.

STAR expects to put the business up by March 2004, beginning with the four metros, expanding the following year to four semi-metros and the year after to 12 cities. The marketing strategy will seek to target the high end of customers. This is typical of DTH services even in the West.

Doordarshan’s DTH service has been cleared in principle by the Prasar Bharati board and the Union cabinet will make the decision on September 30.

Strictly speaking, Doordarshan’s is not a DTH but a “Ku-band” service. It will transmit and distribute only free-to-air channels and is initially meant for districts that cannot be covered by its terrestrial network.

DD’s set-top box, which will be incapable of decoding pay channel signals, and dish are likely to cost around Rs 6,000.

Prima facie this makes the DD plan unviable in the face of competition from STAR and Zee but Prasar Bharati argues that DD is only fulfilling the role of public broadcaster by reaching out to remote places where community television plays a big role.

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