Dish TV, India’s oldest DTH operator, has unveiled an offer that is by the far the cheapest from any private operator in India.

Under the new ‘DishTV Non-Stop Offer’, the company is offering a clutch of free-to-air channels to its subscribers for three years in return for a one-time payment of Rs 1,149. To compare, the cheapest monthly DTH pack from any operator in India is Rs 99.

The pack is aimed at¬†preventing its customers from migrating to Doordarshan’s DD Free Dish, a free DTH service that has emerged as a formidable, ad-supported competitor to paid platforms like Dish TV and Tata Sky.

Dish, part of the Zee Group, is especially vulnerable to competition from Doordarshan since a large portion of its subscribers are from rural areas in the Hindi-speaking belt.

Free Dish currently has around 155 channels, including 32 educational channels on subjects like science, maths and engineering, operated by the ministry of human resources development.

In addition, Free Dish also has a large number of Hindi language general entertainment channels, movie channels and news channels.

Most of the popular Hindi news channels, such as IBN 7 and Aaj Tak are available on the platform as are many ‘serial’ channels such as Star Utsav and Zee Anmol.

Many users, especially in rural areas of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar, have moved from various paid platforms to the free service after DD expanded its channel list over a year ago.

Dish TV is the only private player that allows all its subscribers to watch channels carried by DD Free Dish using their Dish TV connection. However, so far, this required them to pay at least Rs 99 per month plus tax to prevent the operator from locking their boxes.

With the new non-stop offer, these subscribers would be able to ensure that their boxes will not be locked by Dish TV for the next three years. The Rs 1,149 one-time recharge to avail the facility is comparable to the cost of installing a new Free Dish connection.

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However, even as it targets to maintain its Hindi rural subscribers, there is a strong possibility that this move could impact Dish TV’s revenue and bottom line.

To prevent damage to its revenue from non-Hindi belts — where DD Free Dish is not a threat — Dish TV has disabled all non-Hindi and non-English add-on packs on this new plan.

As a result, a customer from Tamil Nadu, for example, will not find the Non Stop pack to be of much use as he won’t be able to watch¬†Tamil channels by subscribing to specific add-on packs.

This has been done because the threat from DD Free Dish does not extend beyond the Hindi-speaking belt as Doordarshan’s DTH service does not have any significant number of regional channels.

However, despite this, the new pack could lead to some erosion of revenue due to the migration of existing Hindi-speaking customers who are paying Rs 99 per month to the new pack. The new pack generates only about Rs 33 per month for the operator.

The second type of customer that could migrate to the new pack are HD-only users.

At present, even if a customer wants to watch only HD channels, he or she has to spend at least Rs 99 plus taxes for subscribing to the cheapest HD pack as the operator does not allow its customers to subscribe to only HD packs.

Unlike in the case of the Rs 99-pack subscribers, the HD shift could happen across the country, including in the south.

UNCERTAINTY

There are also two points of uncertainty with Dish TV’s new offer — tariff regulation announced by the sector regulator and the possibility of Doordarshan encrypting its channels.

Starting about two years ago, Doordarshan has been saying that it wants to stop unencrypted transmission on its DTH service, though it has not followed through yet.

Once the transmission is encrypted, all users will have to buy new set-top-boxes from agents appointed by Doordarshan. Given that most of the Free Dish customers have very low purchasing power, this is likely to be a major disruption for the service’s existing customer base.

However, if it does encrypt the feed, that would also put Dish TV’s new Non-Stop offer under a cloud as Dish TV relies on the open feed of DD Free Dish to serve many of its free-to-air channels. After encryption, Dish TV users will not be able to see Free Dish channels on their existing set-top-boxes.

The sector regulator has also announced that all operators must migrate to a new tariff regime after six months in which they will have to clearly separate basic charges and pay-tv charges. Given that Dish TV does not include pay channels in its Non Stop pack, it can declare Rs 33 per month as its basic subscription charge.

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