The countrys first and only free direct-to-home (DTH) platform aims to challenge the dominance of six private DTH firms that currently command 25 million subscribers. In the process, DD Direct Plus has overhauled itself to provide the viewers a competitive DTH service at no monthly cost, sources in the I&B ministry said.
To meet this aim within a fixed time frame, the ministry has decided to pump in Rs 81 crore in DD Direct Plus. A detailed proposal to this effect was approved last week by the ministry, a source said. This is significant because it is the first instance of a major funding exercise undertaken by the government for DD Direct Plus since its launch in 2004.
However, to implement the plans, Doordarshan will be told to double the subscriber base of DD Direct Plus in next 18 months, the source added. This means, Prasar Bharati will have to acquire at least 3,00,000 subscribers every month beginning early next year.
In order to help Prasar Bharati meet its targets, the I&B ministry, at the behest of the I&B minister Ambika Soni, has decided to go for a mix of direct sale and free distribution of its set top boxes and antennas, a senior government official said.
By December, DD Direct Plus will increase its channel offerings to 97 and in the next 12 months, to 200. Several pay channels may turn free on DD Direct Plus because of its proposed reach, a senior official from the I&B ministry told FE. Currently, at least 88 channels, including several popular ones like IBN7, NewsX, Star Pravah, NDTV Hindi, Imagine, and a slew of regional channels are in queue to come on-board DD Direct Plus, a Doordarshan insider said.
In order to compete with the private DTH operators, DD Direct Plus will also move to the latest video compression technologyMPEG 4, DVB S-2used by most private DTH operators currently. This has been planned to provide the latest digital video and audio services to the subscribers.
Soon a tender will be floated for the supply of MPEG-4 compatible set top boxes, an I&B official said. For free distribution of DD Direct Plus services, at least 30,000 set top boxes will be distributed to the NGOs and village panchayats specially in Jammu & Kashmir and the North Eastern states at an investment of Rs 20 crore.
In order to measure its subscribers, currently not tracked by Prasar Bharati, DD Direct Plus will also launch its own subscriber management system backed by a call centre. This has been done to keep a record of the subscribers of DD Direct. The data will attract broadcasters to come to DD Direct because of its reach, the official said.
Currently, DD Direct Plus is estimated to have a subscriber base in excess of 6 million, second only to the leading private DTH operator, Dish TV.