Sep 25, 2008

Business - India;DTH players call a civil war - Part 2

Dhaleta Surendra Kumar

New entrantsSun DirectLaunched about eight months ago, Sun Direct boasts of 2,00,000 bookings in the first 15 days in Tamil Nadu. It started with its stronghold (the South) not out of choice, but because it did not have Hindi channels on board then. Sun offered packages in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam with about 110 channels.But it is the competitive pricing of Rs 75 a month that sets it apart. Says D’Silva, “DTH, in my business model, is not a rich man’s product. It is a means of digitalisation and a means of reaching the customer – Rs 75 is as good as another cable operator. But there are cable operators in the country who charge Rs 400 as well.” Those who want to go in for higher value packages can opt for add-ons such as the Hindi package, the kids’ package, or the English movie package, which cost Rs 20-140 more.“The third important thing we did was that we gave the equipment free of cost to the consumers for as long as they enjoy our services,” says D’Silva. He adds, “Our package of Rs 1,999 included installation with one year’s free subscription.” Sun Direct hopes to go to the Hindi speaking markets in the next one month with the same competitive pricing, and to close the fiscal with three million connections. This month, it launched its services in Himachal Pradesh, its first state in the North. It has budgeted an ad spend of Rs 150 crore for this fiscal and hired McCann Erickson as its creative agency. “Our message will be simple. Pay for what you watch and be a part of our family, which has more than 1.2 million customers already,” D’Silva says.Big TVThis is one entrant that is making a big noise. aiming for 40 per cent share of the paid DTH market in the next 12 months. Big TV’s strategy is simple. If the customer is not walking to you, reach out to him in his home. According to Behl, the brand will go out with “demo-vans which would, at congregation points in colonies and societies across the country, demonstrate the benefits of a Big TV connection”.In the first three weeks after its launch, Big TV took on 15,000 spots on television, 20,000 spots on radio and more than 600 screens in cinema halls. On the Internet, it is advertising through top sites such as Yahoo!, Rediff and Google. Outdoors, it has taken up several thousand hoardings, 80,000 retail signages and digital screens inside malls. It has created special experience zones at more than 2,000 Reliance branded outlets. Besides, it will be doing some targeted campaigns to cover five crore Reliance mobile customers, five million Reliance Energy customers, four million ADAG shareholders and two million Reliance PCO partners. It is already retailing through more than a lakh outlets across the country.According to Behl, there are six strong differentiators: content, technology, experience, reach, packaging and pricing. To start with content, Big TV offers 202 channels – the maximum any service provider is offering currently – of which 32 are movie channels. Of these, 10 are English movie channels and 10 Hindi. The rest are in Marathi, Bhojpuri, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada. It hopes to add Gujarati, Punjabi and Malayalam soon.On the technology front, it is offering an MPEG4 set-top box (STB), a compression technology that not only helps in squeezing out more channels on a limited number of transponders, but also enables hi-definition content to be viewed. “We have had talks with channels like ESPN-STAR, National Geographic and Discovery and they are more than happy to provide hi-definition content to us,” Behl says.Big TV promises to have stronger strength dish antennae for the coastal areas, where it rains heavily. Rains affect picture quality. “It is one of the biggest drawbacks of DTH. And we are trying to minimise it. In fact, many people feel that rains affect only downlinking quality, but uplinking can be affected, too. To curtail quality depreciation during uplinking, we have transmission centres in both Mumbai and Bengaluru. We can switch to either of the transmission centres within a nanosecond,” he adds.Big TV claims to have a next generation user guide, which is indexed rather than tabulated like the others. It has categorised channels into six genres. At the most, 12 channels from a genre can be viewed at the same time as picture in picture (PIP).“Our research indicated that viewers generally like to surf all the channels and then come back. Much time is wasted in that. PIP allows viewers to select the channel they want easily,” Behl says.In packaging, besides having different price point packages, Big TV claims to be the only DTH service provider at the moment to offer a la carte packages – customers can make up their own package. In pricing, Big TV is on par with DishTV and Tata Sky, though it is offering a three month subscription free as a promotional offer.AirtelWith a 75 million subscriber base and a distribution network of close to a million outlets, Bharti’s Airtel is going to launch its DTH service “any day now”. Atul Bindal, president, Airtel Telemedia, says that the brand, Airtel, will be a major plus point. “It is being at home with Airtel with a cellular service and broadband. Our backend system that captures user information will help us give cross-pollinated services,” he says.As far as the number of channels is concerned, Bindal says, “We will be more competitive.” Airtel would also like to synergise the value added services it offers to its mobile customers. Airtel plans to have two pricing points – one at par with the current offerings in the market and the second a superior offering. According to reports, Airtel has hired film actor Saif Ali Khan as its brand ambassador.A matter of choiceWhen the conditional access system (CAS) was rolled out in parts of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata in January 2007, it was expected to envelop the country. But that hasn’t happened so far. But what if the CAS spread intensifies? If CAS is made mandatory across the country, the customer has to either remain content with free to air (FTA) channels or upgrade. The second option forces the customer to make a choice between DTH and CAS. Obviously, all the DTH players are hoping it will be the former they plump for.

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