Free-to-air TV channels are investing in original content and opting for DD Free Dish to expand viewership
DD Free Dish, the direct-to-home (DTH) platform owned by state broadcaster Doordarshan, is gaining favour among broadcasters. The Q, Shemaroo TV, and Ishara TV are some of the channels that have hopped onto the free-to-air (FTA) platform with fresh content and differentiated programming to expand their viewership base.
The DD Free Dish platform has about 160 television channels of which about 40 are DD channels, 70 are private channels and 50 are educational channels. The Q, launched as a satellite channel in March 2020, joined the DD Free Dish platform in April 2021; Shemaroo TV made its debut in May 2020; and Ishara TV, a paid Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC), opted for DD Free Dish from August, 2021.
As per the FICCI-EY Media and Entertainment Report 2021, this platform has about 40 million subscribers.
While Sony Pal, Colors Rishtey, Zee Anmol and Star Utsav — the FTA channels from India’s leading broadcasters — telecast old shows originally made for their flagship channels, the new entrants are attracting audiences with original shows and alternative content.
The Q, for instance, repackages digital content, such as BakLol, Yo Yo Yogesh, and Chu Chu Ke Funs from YouTube, and airs them on the channel. Simran Hoon, CEO, The Q, says the channel is targeted at young audiences in tier II and III cities, and rural markets. The channel will introduce its first crime fiction show Jurm Ka Chehra next month.
Hoon believes the average TV viewer has become more value-conscious during the pandemic. That, and the increasing selection of channels (200 channels by 2022, according to FICCI-EY) on DD Free Dish, is likely to lure more audiences onto the platform in a few years — from 24 million subscribers four years ago to over 50 million by 2025.
“People are looking for affordable entertainment options. DD Free Dish, which comes at a nominal one-time cost (Rs 2,000) offers a good deal to such viewers,” Hoon says. Other than the one-time cost, DD Free Dish requires no monthly subscription fee, unlike other DTH providers.
Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment, is betting on DD Free Dish because he expects a large chunk of new television owners to take the DD Free Dish route when they begin their TV journey. Shemaroo TV has created an original crime show titled Jurm aur Jazbaat in addition to acquiring rights for some older shows.
The premise that broadcasters are operating on is that the section of viewers watching FTA channels on DD Free Dish is different from those watching paid channels. “While content from traditional broadcasters is built to appeal to mid-tier audiences, players with tailor-made content for DD Free Dish viewers have a reasonable opportunity to break into this market,” says Ashish Pherwani, partner, EY India.
The new entrants, however, are cautious about how much they are investing in building fresh content. “It is undeniable that the economics of FTA channels is limited in nature, and we need to be careful about where we invest our capital,” Gada adds.
Channels like Shemaroo TV and The Q, analysts say, will need to make fresh investments in developing high-quality content to overcome the competitive advantage of FTA channels owned by traditional pay TV broadcasters, who have deep pockets and huge content libraries to pick shows from.
In 2020, the four FTA channels from pay TV broadcasters returned to the DD Free Dish platform to extract additional revenues, after exiting in 2019 due to the implementation of TRAI’s New Tariff Order. It is estimated that these channels generated Rs 300-400 crore of incremental advertising revenues in 2020. The FICCI-EY report projects that this could increase to Rs 1,000 crore in 2021.
Channels in this segment stand to attract advertisers hailing from FMCG, telecom and two-wheeler sectors, as well as those targeting ‘Bharat’. “The service provides a large reach to an often-ignored consumer base,” says Pherwani.
Since DD Free Dish has substantial penetration in smaller towns, most advertisers promote smaller formats of their products on these channels. Deleise Ross, senior partner – client lead, OMD Mudramax, says the cost of advertising on a paid GEC is twice that of an FTA channel. “This makes FTA channels extremely cost effective for an advertiser who is targeting this segment.”