Free-to-air channels have failed to enthuse entertainment seekers on the tube.

Doordarshan’s free fare on its Direct-to-Home (DTH) platform is receiving poor patronage from customers. Viewers are attracted to a host of DTH players in the private sector apparently due to the variety of package on offer despite having to pay for the same.

The government-owned media entity has lost a large chunk of its customers to other channels and is understood to be keen on limiting itself to news. The competition was so intense that Doordarshan’s regional channel might concentrate only on news and discard entertainment programmes altogether, according to sources in the media industry.

Doordarshan’s DTH wing is offering over 50 channels in various languages in the country, apart from a few entertainment channels and a sports channel. Subscribers have to pay the cost of equipment such as dish antenna and set-top box, but there are no monthly charges. In contrast, the private players charge according to the package selected, often varying from Rs.150 to Rs.500 every month.

Doordarshan’s DTH has no takers these days, says Ramachandran, who had sold DTH gadgets earlier. Poor content has kept masses away from the DD antenna. Even the few Malayalam private channels which were initially aired on the DD Direct Plus platform were taken away, making it least attractive to the viewers who seek variety.

In the meantime, the DTH players in the private sector vied with one another, offering new packages, which included exclusive music channels, tuition and study programmes for students, and live darshan of deities at famous temples. “Content and service are the key factors for viewers,” says Sibi Mathai, the Kerala head of a private DTH company.

The clients of DD’s DTH are diminishing in Kerala, but there are quite a number of people interested in installing big dish antennae of about 6 feet in diameter, which can capture various channels on a different system (C-Band). The initial cost of equipments and installation amounts to Rs.7,000, according to B. Prakash, a dealer of DTH gadgets.

If Doordarshan is interested in stomping back, it has the potential for a good performance, notes Mr. Mathai.

But an employee said the time has come for DD to exit. “Entertainment is not a government business, according to the findings of an expert panel,” he points out.

Even the entertainment programmes on regional channels will have to be wound up, paving way for their conversion into news channels, he says.

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