Pakistan looks to check Indian DTH service

Published: November 30, 2015
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Pakistani dealers, working on behalf of Indian DTH companies, are smuggling DTH dish and set-top box from Dubai. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Pakistani dealers, working on behalf of Indian DTH companies, are smuggling DTH dish and set-top box from Dubai. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: 

After an endlessly tiring day, Fareeha Khan looks forward to unwinding at home. In the few hours she gets to relax, television seems like the most obvious choice for entertainment.

“I like reality TV shows,” she says. “But then there are a lot of Indian movie channels. So I entertain myself with bits of different flicks between switching channels.”

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To be precise, she has a choice from over 400 TV channels – all of them being broadcast from India through illegal Direct-to-Home or DTH service. Most of them show Hindi-language content.

The last few years have seen a proliferation of such DTH services in Pakistan despite tense ties and absence of any contract to the effect between Islamabad and New Delhi.

DTH services of Indian companies like Dish TV, Reliance Sundirect, SDN, Tata Sky and Videocon are sold through local agents who thrive working under the radar.

Unlike the analogue cable connections, DTH service is a digital platform that relays channels directly to homes from satellite through small dish antennas.

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The service is more reliable and lets users view high-definition video. The quality of channels listed at the end on the bandwidth does not deteriorate like those on cable.

Estimates of DTH users range from 70,000 to 2.5 million with most of them concentrated in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.

The actual penetration is said to be much more since cable operators also rely on DTHs to show channels like Star Sports, Star Movies and National Geographic, which have not yet received the nod from Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).

Now that Pemra is awarding DTH licences to Pakistani investors soon, there is an urgency to curb the use of illegal DTH service.

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“We have raided, seized and destroyed 2,500 DTH equipment in Islamabad and Lahore,” said Fakharuddin Mughal, Pemra’s spokesman. “We are doing all we can to stop the illegal use.”

But the action is targeted against cable operators. Pemra can’t do much when it comes to DTH systems installed in homes like that of Fareeha’s.

“That’s where (Pakistan) Customs intelligence, FIA and other agencies have a role to play,” said Mughal.

Pakistani dealers, working on behalf of Indian DTH companies, are smuggling DTH dish and set-top box from Dubai, which involves a one-time cost of around Rs10,000 the customer pays.

Since dealers don’t have a registered office, they market through websites. Customers are asked to pay a monthly subscription fee of Rs1,200 via a mobile phone payment service or transfer the amount to an individual’s bank account.

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But the astonishing part of the business is how payments are made to Tata Sky, Reliance, Dish TV and others in India. “That money is being moved illegally. There is no record, no detection,” said an exchange company official.

Pemra’s Director General Licensing Wakeel Khan said around $140 million (around Rs14.7 billion) was being siphoned off by Indian DTHs every year from Pakistan.

“Ultimately, this revenue will trickle down to domestic DTH service providers who win the licence next month.”

Debate on DTH’s future

Pemra is set to auction three DTH licenses on December 7. Ten investors have submitted their documents, which are being vetted.

But at least one prospective operator, business tycoon Aqeel Karim Dhedhi, has opted out of the race. “I am working on something else,” he said.

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“I am not saying it’s a bad investment but those who operate in the grey area would have an advantage over DTH licensee. Investors with really deep pockets would venture into it.”

People close to him say his decision was guided by fear that the market is already cluttered and return on investment would be slow in coming.

However, Pemra sees the situation differently. “We should have done this six years ago. Nevertheless, it’s going to be game changer for the media industry,” said a Pemra official.

Pemra’s optimism is based on the premise that  DTH lets local media houses earn subscription fee from users in addition to advertisement revenue, which currently makes up for bulk of their topline. And then this would in turn encourage development of quality content.

“Just go back a few years … Star Plus’ soaps were popular with very high TRPs. Then gradually Pakistani dramas took over them. That’s the kind of episode we expect to replay,” said the Pemra official.

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Pemra is also preparing for backlash from viewers used to watching a much wider variety of channels.

At the moment only 19 foreign channels have landing rights in Pakistan. These include the likes of CNN, HBO, Ten Sports and AXN. So these are the only options for viewers besides the 86 Pakistani satellite channels.

The regulator is now in talks with some leading international television broadcasters. Pemra’s DG Licensing Wakeel Khan said rules have also been relaxed, making it easier for companies to have landing rights for more channels.

DTH service will also offer thematic channels, which are basically on-demand premium content including movies, dramas and entertainment shows.

“In the end, it’s the Pakistani DTH service providers who have to compete with illegal DTHs. A substantial part of their operational cost will go towards marketing. I am looking at an investment of between $100 million to $150 million in next few years,” Khan said.

Some people argue that DTH won’t change the existing media landscape. “How many households can afford to pay Rs12,000 for a dish antenna? How many of them will be willing to pay Rs1,000 a month for the service? These questions have no clear answers at the moment,” said an industry official.

But beyond this debate, there is another stakeholder with fate closely linked with Pakistan’s DTH initiative.

Television actor Naveed Raza said he would welcome any step that promotes Pakistani entertainment industry.

“I am not at all against Indian content being aired here. But we need to feed ourselves first. It’s an unfair competition. They have both – the big stars and other artists who charge much less than us.”

the writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • Sodomite
    Nov 30, 2015 - 8:31AM

    Whose fault is it that Indian DTH service is being sold in Pakistan?? Where is Pakistan’s relevant agencies? Sleep at the switch. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Nov 30, 2015 - 9:24AM

    After regulating and restricting religion and everything else what the public can do it looks like the authorities won’t allow people to watch television programs they like. This is going to further increase the misery index.
    -Rex MinorRecommend

  • RT
    Nov 30, 2015 - 9:50AM

    We Indians protest action against Indian DTH services in Pakistan. Entertainment is human right, we stand in solidarity with people who love our channels. Recommend

  • Ali S
    Nov 30, 2015 - 10:31AM

    The irony is that Indians themselves enjoy Pakistani TV dramas.Recommend

  • khalid gandhi
    Nov 30, 2015 - 10:35AM

    still not clear whether Local DHT service would provide access to Indian channels or not the viability of this project depends on it If Indian channels are not made available on our local DHT services then Viewers wont be interested in it Recommend

  • sohail
    Nov 30, 2015 - 10:55AM

    The PTCL smart tv uses land line which is usually out of order for 3 months a year and goes off when power is down in your area.

    Cable operator are charging 500 rupees for their poor quality 40 channels and service which remain off for 8 hours daily.

    Instead of providing a reliable channel system, the government is stopping the sale of Indian DHT which is a sole reliable channel system for the entertainment in this region.

    I believe it is pure Dadagiri..!!! Recommend

  • Malatesh
    Nov 30, 2015 - 11:20AM

    All Pakistani entertainment(No news and current affairs) channels should be allowed to broadcast in India and all Indian entertainment channels should be available across Pakistan. Its a Win-Win situation.Recommend

  • ASAD Ghulam
    Nov 30, 2015 - 11:37AM

    DTH would be very beneficial for individuals as it empowers them to opt for choice of entertainment…their is great market spread all over Pakistan’s country side where due to technical ,social,political problems , people are compelled to watch only PTV… just wait for one two years….every one will be saying songs in DTH’s favor…Further, The Monopolized cable operators would reduce their rates ultimately beneficial for customers….it will also increase Jobs and revenues and reach for Government of Pakistan..Recommend

  • Ad
    Nov 30, 2015 - 11:47AM

    The main reason behind the purchase the of Dish is the quality of result that they provide plus number of additional channels. The cable quality is poor to watch on LCD and LED TV’s,
    I think the cable quality is now obsolete, the have to come up with the new technology. The other option we have is ptcl smart, but it is very slow and does not provide any HD channel.
    We are always late in adapting to new technology, this should be done soon so that consumers like me who use LED TV at their home, can watch channels in good quality and also benefit the economy by paying to local parties. Recommend

  • Anon
    Nov 30, 2015 - 11:59AM

    @Ali S:

    Not everybody……only some people from the northern belt of IndiaRecommend

  • samsam
    Nov 30, 2015 - 12:05PM

    i currently pay 200rs per month to the cable operator. I really dont see the need for HD tv channels and i get the best of both indian channels and pakistani channels thru one cable operator. this will be just like paying ptcl smart tv and getting nothing in return.Recommend

  • sameer
    Nov 30, 2015 - 12:26PM

    On ground reality if you see the response to the Pakistani dramas by Indian viewers comparing to Indian daily soaps is so poor. There are handful of Indians who watches these dramas on Zee Zindgi channel. TRP rating is also poor. Actually there was huge response received to Pakistani dramas on starting days from Indian viewer’s but due to same kind of script, and repeated story lines and lack of new things in such dramas viewership get reduced. People found themselves getting board from same structured Pakistani dramas. To increase the Indian audiences Pakistani drama industry must need to make variation in their dramas.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Nov 30, 2015 - 1:51PM

    Start with Raiwind and the PM House!!!Recommend

  • ASAD Ghulam
    Nov 30, 2015 - 3:08PM

    @khalid gandhi:
    i think Pakistani channels alone can compete for Market as now are famous all over Pakistan..
    however, Indian Entertainment channels would be very . positive step…but this depends, i think, in reciprocation from Indian Government as well…reportedly they are not providing space to Pakistani Channels Recommend

  • IBN E ASHFAQUE
    Nov 30, 2015 - 3:23PM

    @Sodomite: Pakistani agencies are also minting through this…..Recommend

  • Cosmo
    Nov 30, 2015 - 3:55PM

    @Ali S:
    No the majority do not, only a very few bollywood personalities make comments about liking Pakistani Dramas to sell their movie. I dont think the common people have any interest in watching Pakistani dramas. I mean, they may be good, but the indians in gereal do not watch them.Recommend

  • Raisani
    Nov 30, 2015 - 4:02PM

    the second lot of Shareefs in shape of Hunda Shareef (his company) has succeeded in securing the DTH license already. Recommend

  • Shaine
    Nov 30, 2015 - 4:03PM

    @RT:
    So You INDIANS are protesting the actions against the ILLEGAL DTH in Pakistan? How PATHETIC! Recommend

  • Shaine
    Nov 30, 2015 - 4:08PM

    The ILLEGAL Indian DTH is not just a serious issue in Pakistan alone. Here in UAE the illegal Indian DTH is a big headache because of the losses incurred by the local DTH service providers. And the authority has launched a track down and fines those residences who uses the illegal DTH.Recommend

  • Ishaq
    Nov 30, 2015 - 5:38PM

    What PEMRA doesn’t realize is that for quite a lot of people, it’s the English Entertainment Channels as well. India has Star World, Colors Infinity, Star World Premiere HD (it’s OWN English Entertainment Channels). We just have Pakistani versions of HBO and AXN. PEMRA needs to be in talks with people to open up our own GEC channels that provide content from the likes of ABC, NBC, Showtime and Fox or Australian/British channels. These are the shows people (and quite a lot, I must add, for I have seen myself) really want to watch. For example, Masterchef Australia and Masterchef US are very popular among Pakistanis. Also, shows like The Blacklist and How To Get Away With Murder are popular with both teenagers and adults. What PEMRA needs to do when awarding the licenses is make sure they add channels that have shows like these. Recommend

  • whtsup
    Nov 30, 2015 - 5:49PM

    Seems like a stopgap tech on the way to internet based streaming video services. Recommend

  • Another Indian
    Nov 30, 2015 - 10:01PM

    @Ali S… That’s a very negligible minority. And you can actually guess who would that be.Recommend

  • Vectra
    Nov 30, 2015 - 11:59PM

    What is the fault of Indian DTH if PEMRA failed continuously to provide the quality DTH Service.PEMRA is only offering 40 channels and that too in low quality pictures as against Indian DTH which provides 400+ HD pictures.PEMRA instead of improving its service is trying to show monopoly.One thing important to note is PEMRA will never be able to provide the Indian DTH like high definition and quality pictures and the reason is simple Pakistan has only one satellite while India has around 24 or more communications satellites currently orbiting Earth.Recommend

  • Rizwan
    Dec 1, 2015 - 3:49AM

    @whtsup:
    Not in Pakistan. We’re a country that got 3G in 2014, a full 10 years after the rest of the world. Internet speeds of 2 or 4 mb are still considered ‘fast’ here, while the world has moved on to speeds of more than 50. It will be at least 10 to 15 years before internet based streaming services like Netflix become a viable option here.Recommend

  • Alien1
    Dec 1, 2015 - 5:37AM

    @Ali S: there would be less than a million who watch pakistani dramas, the rest do not even know such a channel exists.Recommend

  • HG
    Dec 1, 2015 - 10:54AM

    In my home I don’t have Dish or cable anymore since 2007. But I watch TV from all over world, Thanks to internet which cost only $49.99 a month. I am saving almost $250 a month. Recommend

  • Naveed Ikram
    Dec 2, 2015 - 11:50AM

    I have got installed Dish TV installed and yes when it comes to entertainment, information, it really is another world.

    I am enamored of Documentaries of DW (Germany) TV, Russia Today (RT), France TV & NDTV.

    Have been watching ‘House of Cards’ & ‘Big Bang Theory’ on Zee Cafe. Delightful viewing it is.

    Moreover this step has saved me from the screaming, shouting, agenda based ‘talk-shows” of Pakistani media.

    PEMRA or whatever it is, must understand that do whatever you will, you cant’ pull back technology. Recommend

  • Mukmuka
    Dec 22, 2015 - 9:49PM

    Fakhruddin Mughal should show exactly the link between the smuggling, border crossing, and the closed eye of the regulator. This could be a security challenge, and be investigated. The satellite communication link band should be checked with the regulatory authority, and how it was left un-checked.
    The source should be checked.Recommend

  • vinay kumar reddy
    Feb 25, 2016 - 1:51PM

    @HG:
    in india internet 1mbps cost is just 8 dollars per month..pakistan is so costlyRecommend

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