Did govt pressure nudge ABS-2 to shutter Indian TV channels on FTA DTH service?

Did govt pressure nudge ABS-2 to shutter Indian TV channels on FTA DTH service?


NEW DELHI: ABS has closed the doors from 1 May 2018 on Indian TV channels that were using the ABS-2 satellite-beamed FTA Ku-band platform. Apparent reason: Indian government pressure on local TV channels to stop using the 'unlicenced' platform that discouraged payment of carriage fee to the satellite operator, which was the origin of the business.

The Bermuda-registered satellite operator’s ABS-2 signals --- hosting on its South Asian beam a Nepalese and a Bangladeshi DTH services licenced in their respective countries --- have been spilling over into India and a mix of Indian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi TV channels were available to Indians as a FTA service that was accessed via some plain vanilla hardware (read set-top boxes and antennae) at a nominal cost.

On being petitioned by Indian distribution platforms, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) in 2017 had asked Department of Space (DoS) to block the “unauthorised” DTH or KU-band ABS-2 service on the grounds of possible threat to national security --- an allegation that was refuted by ABS citing international laws of ITU.

Finally, when ABS took the decision to shut the doors on the Indian TV channels, there were 90 of them, mostly beaming content in non-Hindi Indian languages. These channels were using the FTA Ku-band platform to reach not only Indian audiences in southern and eastern parts of India but, probably, also those in Nepal and Bangladesh for additional eyeballs. Eyeballs meant advertising revenue for these TV channels.

ABS last year had refuted Indian government charges saying “natural spillover” of satellite signals into neighbouring countries, outside the service area of the countries offering licensed DTH services, but falling within the coverage area of the satellite, was in “full compliance” of ITU provisions.

With ABS discontinuing the Indian TV channels, Reliance Big TV (sold by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications to new investors) FTA DTH service yet to fully bloom and Doordarshan’s FreeDish platform locked in a policy logjam, free to air platforms and low-cost television viewing for people in the Indian hinterland seem to have run into air turbulence.

According to industry experts, Indian hardware companies had devised a way to have two LNBs (low-noise box) in one single DTH antenna that was capable of receiving both ABS-2 and DD FreeDish services, resulting in sizable popularity of these two platforms that were accessed via a low-cost hardware. This was unlike the full-fledged subscription-based DTH services made available by the likes of Tata Sky, Dish TV, Videocon d2h and Sun TV.

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