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Pakistan opens up DTH, Indian firms cautious

By Ashish Sinha in New Delhi
October 10, 2008 11:29 IST
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Several Indian companies find the proposal attractive but are yet to arrive at a decision.

Encouraged by the success of direct-to-home services in India, Pakistan Television Corporation Ltd, that country's national broadcaster, has invited national and international firms to help it set up its own DTH service with 100 channels.

Once operational, this will be the first DTH service in Pakistan. The country has already witnessed a boom in its cable sector with over 60 active private cable channels launched in the recent past and several more in the pipeline -- with most being news and entertainment channels.

According to experts, setting up a DTH network from scratch involves an initial investment upwards of Rs 3,000 crore (Rs 30 billion) and thereafter an annual recurring expense of Rs 400-500 crore (Rs 4 to 5 billion).

"To the best of our knowledge, there are no competent firms in Pakistan that could undertake such a job so international participation in the venture is the only practical possibility," a senior executive of a leading DTH firm said requesting anonymity.

While Pakistan is yet to see a private or a state-owned DTH operator, the Indian market is buzzing with half-a-dozen DTH firms.

The DTH segment has already cornered about 10 per cent of the cable subscribers but none of them is thinking about crossing over to the other side in order to expand its business.

While several of the current Indian DTH firms are keeping an eye on PTVC's  notice and even find the proposal attractive but have refrained from taking any decision on participation in the expression of interest floated by the PTVC recently.

Senior executives of Dish TV, Tata Sky and others refused to comment on their participation in any such project. However, a senior executive of one of the existing DTH firm said: "On paper, the proposal is interesting enough. But we have enough grounds to cover within India that looking elsewhere for business development is almost ruled out."

The existing DTH licensing norms in the country does not allow any firm to transmit its signals outside the border of India nor has any laid out norms for allowing domestic firms from seeking international business.

However, sources say that Dish TV, Tata Sky and Sun Direct are popular in Pakistan and often get to the Pakistani consumers via countries in West Asia.

"Our mandate is to offer the DTH services within India. If we learn that any of out boxes are active outside India, we immediately take action to deactivate any such service," a senior executive of Tata Sky said.

In a notice, PTVC has invited EoI from firms based in Pakistan or outside to submit both technical and financial bids by October 11.

According to the notice, PTVC will enter into a joint venture agreement with the private partner in which it will hold 51 per cent stake and will provide land, professional and technical manpower and all the necessary legalities for operating the proposed DTH service in Pakistan.

The other joint venture partner will be required to create the infrastructure, uplinking centre and office complex, hire manpower, create content and source set-top boxes among others, the PTVC notice said. 

In Pakistan, the television and radio sectors are under the purview of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

Three year ago, PEMRA had issued two DTH licences to private operators based in Pakistan but so far these have not become operational.

These companies were ARY Media which operators a handful of cable channels and Cross Currents Ltd, a television content creating company, sources say.

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Ashish Sinha in New Delhi
Source: source