ISLAMABAD - The first-ever three direct-to-home (DTH) licences have been auctioned for Rs14.694 billion rupees.

The bidding started on Wednesday and ended early on Thursday after a long process of 15 hours. The much-awaited and highly speculative bidding finally took place at a local hotel in the presence of stakeholders, media and government representatives.

The Mag Entertainment Lahore offered the highest bid of Rs4,910 million, the Shahzad Sky Islamabad Rs4,900 million and the third bidder, Startime Communications Rs4,898 million which was also declared the final prize for other two companies. The fee of a single licence is Rs4.898 million and the PEMRA collected around Rs 14,690 million in this way. The successful bidders would be issued licences after clearance from the interior ministry and security agencies.

The launch of the DTH technology had been pending since 2003 and the authority had to overcome a number of hurdles such as litigations, stay orders and opposition from cable operators and broadcasters’ association.

Even a day before the bidding on Tuesday, the Lahore High Court issued a stay order against the bidding but on the morning of the bidding day (Wednesday) the PEMRA chief along with a legal team got it vacated and the bidding started two hours behind the schedule.

PMRA Chairman Absar Alam congratulated the winners and said: “it was going to be a game-changer for the country’s electronic media industry”. “To date, this is the biggest investment in Pakistan’s electronic media history,” he said adding as per the estimates and feasibility studies carried out by PEMRA experts, the overall investment would be $450m ($150m each) and could touch $750m more in the next two years. These estimates did not include the bidding proceeds.

The DTH-service, he said, is a state-of-the-art technology offering new dimensions of the distribution system and a wide range of choice to the consumers. “The current analogue distribution system is offering a maximum of 80 channels while the DTH would increase the capacity to around 120 and each local DTH licence holder is expected to have at least 500,000 subscribers,” he said. Besides lucrative investment, the DTH regime would also make a significant contribution to job generation in the country leading to 1,500 jobs (500 by each company) new direct employment opportunities, he said.

Later, talking to media persons, Alam said that it (DTH service) would not end the cable operators’ business but would compel them to invest in technology and their distribution systems. However, the media watchdog issued non-exclusive licences for 15 years to the successful bidders after the open outcry against the bidding.

Pakistani DTH services once launched, will counter sale of illegal Indian DTH services in Pakistan, which incurs a heavy loss on exchequer because of transfer of between $200 million to $350 million to India annually on account of subscription fees. Now the legal DTH services will give consumers a choice against the current monopoly of cable operators as well.