First came the channel boom. The skies became overcrowded as more and more transnational broadcasters directed their operations towards this region. Initially all the channels were free-to-air but with the mushrooming of channels and the comparatively low growth of advertising on which the channels were solely dependent forced the broadcasters to go ‘pay’. Making Indian viewers pay for viewing programmes did not prove to be an easy task. As a result pay channels are still struggling to gain a foothold in the country although they have been there since two years.
Against this backdrop India is standing at the threshold of yet another revolution in the cable and satellite industry, the DTH revolution. Direct-to-home television or as it is popularly called DTH has become the most talked about topic in the country today.
DTH is a service in which the consumers receive programmes employing their own user terminals. -The user terminal consists of a dish antenna of 50 to 70 cm in diameter, land Integrated Receiver Decoder (IRD), Smart Card and remote control. The transmission of DTH programmes are transmitted from a high-power Ku-band transponder. A single transponder can accommodate a bouquet of 6 to 10 digitally compressed channels. The dish receives the satellite signals and the smart card permits the decoder to de-scramble the signals. In DTH the signals are all digitized.
But one does wonder that when there are so many channels available on Cable TV (which has crossed the 50 mark), why should one go for DTH services.
FACTORS FOR THE RISE OF DTH
i. India has a very scattered population compounded with vast geographical diversifications. Cable TV operations involve the process of transmitting signals through wires and cables. Due to the distances between habitats the cable operators have to bear huge expenses in order to reach the subscriber’s. And the returns hardly suffice the expense borne by the operators. Thus, the operators shirk from catering to the population where the distance between the subscribers is great. This limits the reach of Cable-TV. Resultantly Cable TV is concentrated in the urban areas of the country where buildings and residential areas are close to each other.
ii. On -the other hand, DTH can provide a nationwide coverage irrespective of scattered habitats, mountainous terrains etc. As it is exclusively at the disposition of the viewer it can penetrate into every nook ‘and corner of the country. Moreover it is free from the messy entanglements of wires and cables.
iii. While a Cable TV dish needs much space and provides only a. few channels, a DTH dish is only about 50 to 60 cms in diameter and can easily fit into a balcony of a subscriber. It offers a great number of channels under one umbrella.
iv. In a DTH service the signals are digitized, ensuring superior video/audio quality, almost CD like. The digital technology can also offer a video channel with multiple audios.
v. One of the best features of DTH service is that it can offer addressable and interactive services.
vi. The DTH service also features Karaoke facilities. The information-based programmes can become interactive. Data services, pay per view, and video on demand can be offered by a DTH service.
vii. In DTH service the signals are encrypted. A viewer has to acquire a dish antenna, integrated receiver decoder and smart card to be able to receive the signals. This stops the unauthorized access to the signals by non-subscribers.
viii. The Digital Video Server technology employed in DTH delays the incoming feeds by selectable intervals ranging from seconds to hours. This facilitates editing and on-site censorship of programmes. It also incorporates an automation system that allows muting, freezing and block replacement of programming.
With these advantages over Cable TV, DTH currently has emerged as one of the most dynamic television services with a high potential for growth and large market. But it isn’t devoid of drawbacks which somewhat discolour its advantages. Industry professionals, though vying with each other to get on the DTH platform as early as possible are full of apprehensions about the success of DTH in Indian conditions. DTH has been operational in United States of America since two years but it has only gained about two to three million subscribers.
DRAWBACKS OF DTH
1. The Integrated Receiver Decoder will be very expensive. It may cost more than Rs 25,000 which will place it above the reach of the average Indian public. Only the affluent section of the society will be able to pay thehigh price of the decoder.
2. Subscribers will have to pay for each channel transmitted through a DTH platform apart from investing a huge sum to acquire an IRD. The subscription fees may amount to Rs. 300 to Rs. 500 per month. Will the Indian subscriber who has been hesitant to pay more than Rs.100 per month to watch cable TV programmes cough up the amount for DTH subscriptions?
3. One of the greatest drawbacks in DTH is its poor performance during the rains. The signal attenuation of Ku Band signals used in a DTH service is higher than the C-Band used in cable TV services. The Madras based Karthik Engineering conducted tests on Ku-band transponders on PAS-4 satellite and came up with the conclusion that a 90 cm diameter dish was incapable of producing clear pictures during the rains while a 120 cm size was found to be ideal for the varying weather conditions.
4. Interactive services provided on DTH use the telephone system for return path, thus limiting the quality and extent of the service.
Recently the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), Delhi conducted a survey on the future prospects of Direct-to-Home television services in India. According to the survey India has more than 52 million television owning households in the country. Cable and Satellite television has penetrated to around 18 million households out of which eight, to nine million are’ concentrated in the urban areas. About five to eight million households in the country own colour televisions and one out of every ten colour TV owning households have two colour TVs.
i By 2001, Asia Pacific region expects to have 54 Satellites compound to number of 26.
ii 3000 transponders will be available by year 2020.
iii Programming to grow from 500 hrs/week to 5000 hrs/week.
iv From the present level of 100 teams 3000 fully equipped production teams are expected by the year 2020.
v TV ad revenues to rise from 800 crores to 15000 crores.
vi Population base of Asia Pacific is 3 billion, out of which India has one billion plus by the year 2000.
CMS has concluded in its survey that less than half a million will initially subscribe to DTH. By the end of the century it will rise to nearly 5 million subscribers. The upper class and upper middle class strata of the country with the monthly income of more than 10,000 and owning colour TV sets will hook on to DTH services. Earlier Iqbal Malhotra, an independent consultant! had conducted a study in the rural areas of the country where cable: penetration is very low and stated; that the rich farmers who have an ownership control of around 20 acre: and a turnover of $6000 per annum can afford to subscribe to a DTH service and they constitute to a sizeable amount.
The growth in the income distribution pattern, after the economic liberalisation in the country, the burgeoning middle class and rising consumerism will also play a major role in the success of DTH. DTH will become a status symbol when it is launched and therefore the middle class may go in for the services.
LICENSING OF DTH
Department of Telecommunication has recently issued a notification to licence DTH services. Subscribers will have to pay a licence fee to receive DTH. That means unlike the case of pay channels, sale of DTH decoders will be regulated from day one and government will get a sizeable revenue. Apart from this the new Broadcast Bill envisages licensing DTH services zone wise. Each zone will be of the size of a Telecom Circle and the licences will be given to the highest bidder like it was done in the cast of Basic Telecom Services. Government also plans to issue licences to two operators per zone to instill competition.
DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING OF DTH
DTH will have to stand up against the existing terrestrial TV and Cable TV and also the MMDS and Internet. Therefore distribution and marketing will play a major role in determining the success of DTH. Marketing will have to be similar to that of consumer electronics. There should be a well-knit ground distribution system to deliver the services. Some marketing strategies are given below:
1. A DTH platform should carry all the channels that are available on the cable and terrestrial TV and much more.
2. The programming contents of the channels should be varied and should cater to every viewing preference of the subscribers.
3. The cost of the subscriber’s equipment is bound to go down in the near future after international giants like, GI, Pace, Echostar Phillips, and Samsung start manufacturing the equipments in the country. But to overcome the initial hurdle of high prices of the decoder boxes they will have to be subsidised. Leasing of decoders will also have to be resorted to in the beginning.
4. Many companies are coming forward to offer subscription management services for DTH. BPL India, a leading electronics manufacturer of the country plans to utilize its network for distribution of DTH kits and also provide subscription management services.
5. Revenue collection will be a gigantic task as the DTH users will not be concentrated in one area. Distribution cum Collection cells will be required in every major town. These centres will also provide technical services to the consumers attending to their complaints.
ROLE OF CABLE OPERATORS
Small cable operators fear that they will perish with the advent of DTH but this will not be so in the immediate future. DTH will take at least two to three years to make some impact on the Cable TV market. Due to the costs involved. Cable will always rule amongst the over 300 million middle class in India. In India DTH will go the American way where cable has a leading edge unlike Europe where the satellite television market started with DTH.
A very significant role of cable operators will be to act as agents for DTH services. This way, they will be able to serve even those discerning subscribers who want high quality satellite services. With their in-depth knowledge of the population they are serving and their existing human resource, these operators can do a wonderful job in promoting, servicing and revenue collection of the DTH services.
HOW THE MARKET WILL DEVELOP
As already brought out, DTH services will comprise of all the possible satellite channels as well as premier channels for which subscribers will pay extra. This will force DTH broadcasters to join hands to form two to three groups in India. Basic package of 15 to 20 channels with 5-10 channels of premier programming may be the beginning.
The ‘way Doordarshan is going, their DTH project with Measat may find it difficult to come through. Hence it will have no other option left except to join one of the groups and Government may make it mandatory for all licensed groups to carry four to five channels of DD.
One formidable platform may be launched by STAR TV with broadcasters like Zee and Sun TV along with NBG, CNBC.
Other group may be formed by the PAS-4 channels consisting of Sony, ATN, BBC and the Intelsat channels. Even the non-operational Jain TV, Global Internet and Amnet may join one of these groups. Possible platforms are PanAmSat and Shinawatra. AsiaSat may join later on as a third group.
Another important aspect of marketing DTH in India will be bifurcating the beams, region wise. The existing entertainment market in India is divided in two, North dominated by Hindi and South dominated by non Hindi programmes. English will be a common factor for both the beams.
Whatever may be the initial hurdles, DTH market does have bright prospect in the country. It will be the quality that will-make DTH popular. And as the time goes by, costs of the systems will also drop whereas for the same kind of services cost of cable connections will go up. So, may be after 5 to 10 years, the ground will be level for both the technologies and we expect DTH to be the winner there on.
By a reputed Registered MSO at Hyderabad
(Qualification and Experience is must, Accommodation will be provided for outsiders)
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