The direct-to-home (DTH) segment of the country’s broadcasting sector has experienced significant growth in volume and competition over the past two years. Between seven players, there are more than 22 million subscribers today, and the number is expected to rise to 45 million by 2015.
While this rapid growth is good for the sector, the price war that has ensued with the entry of too many players too soon is detrimental to its long-term health, believes Tata Sky MD and CEO Vikram Kaushik. He also doesn’t rule out the possibility of consolidation in the sector, but that may take some time. For now, the DTH players are upbeat about their growth prospects, and Tata Sky is no exception.
A recent Media Partners Asia (MPA) report has suggested that digital pay TV penetration in India may grow from 10% in 2008 to 33% by 2013, and 42% by 2018. What does this mean for DTH players? Digitisation has a certain inevitability about it, says Mr Kaushik.
It has to happen simply because analogue systems cannot deliver either the quantity or quality of an evergrowing list of channels across genres and languages in the country. “Only digitisation can remove the anomalies created by serious under-declaration in the pay TV market. It will help meet the requirements of all the constituents in the value chain: broadcasters, government and, most importantly, consumers. By 2015, we expect to have 40-45 million DTH subscribers in India.” But is Tata Sky in line with the projected subscriber growth?
“We did our first million in 11 months, the second million in nine months, the third in seven months, and the fourth in eight months. Overall, the category is exploding.” But policymakers need to understand that digitisation of pay TV is being driven by the DTH industry, he adds.
The financial burden of generating this growth is extremely high and the government policy is not helping with creating a level playing field vis-a-vis cable TV. The tax regime threatens the viability of this fledgling sector. So, what is the key differentiator in subscriber acquisition for Tata Sky, particularly when six of the seven players offer similar content and services, at a similar price?
“Tata Sky has identified three key areas of excellence to differentiate itself. The first is the brand that indisputably stands for reliability, trustworthiness and has a premium image. The second area of excellence is technology. The basic service works efficiently and simple functions such as channel change, picture quality and planning of the programming guide are superior to our competitors. Moreover, Tata Sky+ has initiated a revolution in urban Indian homes with its unique pause-and-record function.”
The third differentiator is customer service. “With three call centres manned by over 1,200 people and dealing in 11 languages 24x7, Tata Sky has changed the perception of subscriber-based services in India. Over 3,000 trained personnel instal new connections every day.”
The company is optimistic about Tata Sky+, as in a recent NDS study, personal video recorder (PVR) emerged as the second-most essential household technology in India. “We have subsidised the PVR for Indian consumers, and it is seeing growing traction. It transfers the control to the viewer — she can choose to watch what she wants, when she wants.” Given the intense competition, what is the company’s strategy to expand its market share?
Tata Sky has various plans including high-definition (HD) service and more interactive channels. One of the players has already launched HD service, but Tata Sky is not deterred, he says. “We will launch HD shortly. However, in line with our track record , whatever we offer will be meaningful, problem-free and seamless. We will offer better value to the Indian consumer than what is currently available.”
So, does the company see consolidation in the fiercely-competitive DTH market? “In any industry, an individual player should be able to justify its existence either in terms of quality or price. Consolidation could happen through aggregation or mergers since the relative investments in capital equipment are not so large. One of the constraints, however, will be the limited availability of co-located satellite capacity for the efficient transmission of content. Valuations are also still at an incipient stage and, hence, the process might take a while to crystallise.”