Oct 31, 2008

Business - India;DTH subscribers double in 7 months

Soma Das

The number of new subscribers added by Direct to Home operators in the past seven months is almost equal to the subscriber base it had acquired since the first commercial DTH operations began in 2003.

That is if claims made by DTH players are anything to go by. As of today, the total subscriber base of DTH (excluding Doordarshan's non-commercial DTH venture) has crossed 8.9 million, a sharp escalation overthe 4.5 million connections in March.

DTH market leader Dish TV Ltd, promoted by Subhash Chandra's Zee group that launched its service in 2003, accounts for more than 4 million customers. Salil Kapoor, COO, Dishtv told FE, "Dish TV continues to be a market leader with a 54% market share".

Apart from the CAS roll out in metros last year, various other factors have helped DTH operators get new customers. Primary among them are multiplication of players leading to competitive pricing by subsidising hardware, increased awareness, increase in the number of places where the service is available, better picture quality in DTH vis-à-vis cable (95% of which still operates on analogue). Analysts believe that the credibility and brand image of the companies that ventured into the business have also played a significant role.

The second largest player, Tata Sky Ltd, an 80:20 JV between the Tata Group and Star TV, claimed a subscriber base of 2.7 million in mid-October. CEO of Tata Sky, Vikram Kaushik, said, "We are targeting around 8 million customers by fiscal 2012".

Asked if the recent DTH launches by telecom players -- Big TV and Airtel Digital -- has impacted its subscriber acquisition, Kaushik said, "It has actually resulted in increasing our rate of subscriber acquisition".

Jawahar Goel, managing director, Dish Tv and Tony D'Silva, COO, Sun Direct, a JV between Marans and Malaysia's Astro group, feel that the entry of new players from the world of telecom have expedited the rate of their subscriber acquisition. D'silva told FE, "We have grown our subscriber base from half a million in March to 1.7 million in October and aim to touch 3 million by this fiscal end."

Big TV claimed that by mid-October, it crossed 5-lakh customer milestone. Arun Kapoor, president, Big TV said, "We are fully-geared to add over 400,000 subscribers every month, with an on-ground infrastructure spanning 6500 towns." President of the latest entrant Airtel Digital, Atul Bindal expects his company to gain 20% market share among new additions to the category in its first year. If the above claims are accurate and the growth momentum sustains itself for a longer period, the industry may surpass Ernst & Young's projection of 19 million households by 2010.