The Indian government has notified a new rule that mandates all TV sets being manufactured in the country or being shipped to have in-built digital satellite TV tuners capable of receiving signals from free to air (FTA) broadcasts without the help of a set-top-box.
The notification, issued by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (Metity), is dated April 26, 2023 and, according to Indian TV and broadcast sector observers, would largely benefit public broadcaster Doordarshan’s FTA DTH service, FreeDish.
Earlier this year, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur had said efforts were afoot to have a built-in satellite tuner in television sets to offer access to over 200 channels.
He had said there has been a humongous expansion of general entertainment channels on Doordarshan FreeDish, which has helped attract millions of viewers to it.
In December last year, Thakur had written to Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to issue directions to television manufacturers to adopt the standards issued by the Bureau of Industrial Standards for built-in satellite tuners.
Television sets with built-in satellite tuners would enable reception of free-to-air television (of public broadcaster Doordarshan) and radio channels by mounting a small antenna at a suitable place such as at the rooftop or side wall of a building.
Indianbroadcastingworld.com was the first to report on January 10 that the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has published the norms for digital television receivers with built-in satellite tuners, amongst three significant Indian standards in the area of electronics, facilitating easy viewing of free TV. (https://www.indianbroadcastingworld.com/bis-publishes-standards-for-digital-tv-receivers-built-in-satellite-tuners/)
According to the Ficci-EY 2023 report on the Indian M&E industry, free television (FreeDish) continued to grow its base to reach an estimated 45 million subscribers on the back of less-expensive television sets, economic issues and addition of new channels to the platform.
The report stated: “FreeDish distributors we spoke to mentioned year-on- year growth has remained strong, though demand was lower than in 2021.”
As of January 2023, DD FreeDish hosted 179 channels, which comprised 91 Doordarshan TV channels (including 51 educational channels launched during the pandemic) and 79 private TV channels, apart from All India Radio’s audio programming content of around 48 radio channels.
Interestingly, the report pointed out that the fall in India’s pay television homes was attributed to “both cord-cutting at the top end as well as movement to free television (DD FreeDish) at the bottom end of the customer pyramid.”
However, writing a Guest Column in Indianbroadcastingworld.com in March 2023, satellite and distribution expert Rajiv Khattar had observed that mandating in-built digital satellite TV tuners would give an unfair advantage to Prasar Bharati, DD’s parent, over other stakeholders of the M&E industry. (https://www.indianbroadcastingworld.com/guest-column-will-mandated-digital-tv-tuners-be-advantage-freedish/)
Khattar had written: “DD’s parent Prasar Bharati seems to have taken a cue from regulator TRAI’s recommendations of April 2020 on the STB interoperability where it was recommended that MIB should move ahead with the interoperability for the DTH and cable TV boxes by implementing the USB CI+2.0 standards and implement a regime of having digital tuners in the STBs.
“What the pubcaster is now doing is cherry picking the recommendations and trying to gain control of the TV sets — and subsequently the viewing habits, maybe — by nudging the TV manufacturers, through BIS, to implement the requirement for digital tuners in television sets.”