Telecom companies can’t be more frustratingly unavailable when you need internet on the go.
But Arun, a 59-year-old farmer and local businessman in Jalandhar, Punjab watches glitch-free agricultural programmes on a mobile application where internet connectivity is patchy. Arun, though, doesn’t use data to stream content. He has been live streaming television on his smartphone, on his business travels across Punjab, in trains and buses, for more than a year now. His two sons use the same application to watch cricket matches.
Yes, watching TV on smartphones sans internet is a reality in India, and the infrastructure is being put in place by the country’s public broadcaster Prasar Bharati, which runs All India Radio and Doordarshan (DD)—a network of 23 television channels. Digital terrestrial transmission (DTT)—a technology by which consumers can receive TV channels via radio waves, on smartphones or tablets without data consumption—is the tech making this possible. The app is called TV-On-Go.
Supriya Sahu, director general of Doordarshan, is convinced DTT is a compelling proposition with the increasing number of users consuming content online. “In rural areas, the aspirational value of smartphones and online content is much higher. DTT is an offering that will address the entertainment needs of the users who find it difficult to spend money on the internet every month,” she says.
With the price of data hitting rock bottom (thanks to telco Reliance Jio), typical urban consumers, such as you and I, have access to just about any app we want. We subscribe to over-the-top (OTT) video platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar where we can download or stream content. But think of rural or sub-urban India. Bandwidth is scarce and priorities are different. Digital terrestrial technology is Doordarshan’s OTT-alternative for rural India.
DD’s Digital Dance
Doordarshan tried to stay relevant through the 90s. But with the onset of the millennium, it lost the TV game to private broadcasters—no DD channel features in the list of top 10 most-watched TV channels. Now, it wants to tap into rural mobile consumers before the video streaming applications do. It wants to do this without getting into the data game. Why? Because terrestrial technology is the monopoly of Prasar Bharati and outside the ambit of private players. Legally, only the public broadcaster can use terrestrial technology to transmit TV channels and no private company is allowed. While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has made multiple recommendations to the government to open DTT to private companies, the technology has remained exclusive to Doordarshan, so far.
DTT is a vital part of Asian countries’ media development, says John Medeiros, chief policy officer at Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), a Hong Kong-based media organisation for the Asia-Pacific region.