Currently, DTH accounts only for 20 per cent TV connections in Bangalore and Mysore

As the March 31 deadline for cable TV digitisation nears, companies offering direct-to-home (DTH) services appear to be in a marketing and promotional overdrive. For, they believe, when forced to make a switch, many are likely to opt out of the cable network and go the dish way.

Minor player

But statistics, both State and nationwide, indicate that DTH continues to be a minor player in the cable viewing market. In Bangalore, which most DTH players identify as a leading market for their services, there are only 4.56 lakh DTH subscribers, compared to the total base of 22.68 lakh TV connections, according to Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) estimates (as of March 21). This accounts for just 20 per cent of total TV connections in the city.

The figures are similar in Mysore where only 44,935 of the total 2.09 lakh television sets get DTH signals. Even countrywide, MIB figures indicate that DTH connections account for just around 26 per cent of the total number of TV connections.

But DTH players are confident that these numbers will change once the compulsory digitisation drive reaches smaller towns, and once consumers “lose faith” in cable DAS (digital addressable system) or digital cable TV.

Vikram Mehra, chief marketing officer, Tata Sky, says there is empirical data (mostly industry surveys) indicating that when forced to go digital, consumers tend to switch to DTH “simply because there’s so much on offer”.

This month, in all 38 cities, Tata Sky has beefed up its manpower up by 400 per cent, offered “innovative tariff/purchase plans”, even incentivised customer referrals with a Rs.200 bill waiver.

Cost deterrent?

Another deterrent for DTH is equipment cost, particularly crucial in a price-sensitive market like India. DTH players offer equipment starting at Rs.1,700-Rs. 2,000 all the way up to Rs. 6,500 (for recording and storage), compared to cable set-top box which costs Rs.1,000- Rs. 1,400. Mr. Mehra concedes this is a factor. “Which is why, for lower-income markets, we have an offer of Rs. 400 upfront and then Rs. 5 a day over months so the burden is felt less.”

Rohit Malhotra, CEO of Bharti Airtel, Karnataka, says quality will be a key offering. “Be it quality of the experience or content — and also customer service — they all are on the list of customers’ expectations from the DTH service providers.” Airtel Digital TV is “growing at a faster pace” in both Bangalore and Mysore, because “the cities are quite technically updated”.

Further, in both cities, an increase in high-rises and residential complexes means that DTH players are targeting entire living communities at a go, Mr. Malhotra explains. Other trends include online sales and multi-brand outlets that offer everything from TV sets to the DTH connection under one roof.

Value-added services will be a game-clincher for DTH, with few local cable operators currently equipped to provide them. Mr. Malhotra explains that value-adds such as interactive education for students, farming advisory content and religious content are already popular.

“So, this graduates TV from just an entertainment experience to infotainment.”

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