Cable TV

“We are looking at funding options and are actively engaged with investors”: JK Jain

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Cable TV industry in the country has been the hub of the action for the past one year, especially with the government pushing through digitisation of cable TV homes. An important player in the industry is the headend in the sky (HITS) player JAINHITS, which did face some initial hiccups in being accepted by the broadcasters and local cable operators (LCOs), but has now finally made in-roads in several homes pan-India.

And leading the HITS platform from the front is Dr. Jinendra Kumar Jain, who is not only a surgeon, a former member of parliament, but also the founder chairman of Jain TV Group.  

He pioneered the satellite TV era in India by launching the country’s first round-the-clock satellite television service in Indian languages. JAINHITS is his latest initiative to serve the national goal of digitisation. 

The HITS platform proposes to distribute 200 to 500 digital channels via satellite to the existing ground networks of cable operators. It is designed to integrate broadcasting and broadband services and thus, help bridging the digital divide in one go all over the country.

Jain’s leadership, innovative ideas in the ICT sector and entrepreneurial initiatives have led to establishment of several successful businesses, including: Video on Wheels (Vow), a countrywide network of mobile video and health service vans, Noida Software Technology Park Limited (NSTPL), India’s first private teleport that provides both fixed (FSS) as well as mobile (MSS) satellite services, Medical Communication Network (MCN) whose publications include the Indian edition of FIGO Journal, IJGO (International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics) and the Population Reports for John Hopkins University, National Broadcasting Academy (NBA), a graduate and post graduate educational programme providing degrees in Management and Communication fields.  

While the eyes are fixed on the soon-to-be launched HITS platform from Hinduja, Indiantelevision.com’s Seema Singh spoke to Jain on the platform’s performance, the struggle in getting accepting, his future plans and much more….

Excerpts…

How did you think of launching a HITS platform in a market which was dominated by multi system operators (MSOs)? How long did it take from planning to finally launching the service?

We were the very first company that explained the headend in the sky (HITS) strategy to deliver digital signals to the cable operators. It was somewhere in the year 2003 that the then Minister Sushma Swaraj declared the decision of digitisation. They had obviously not done any homework and officials in her Ministry were willing to learn the technological aspects of the task. I had an opportunity to explain Anil Baijal, the then additional secretary in the Ministry about HITS. He liked the idea and I agreed to submit a detailed project report with all the relevant information.  The Government issued us the permission letter to deliver HITS services from our Teleport which had already been set up. In the beginning, there was no market and therefore we did not show any hurry. In fact, Citi Networks also got the similar permission and even started HITS based services without waiting for finalisation of rules and regulations. They arrived in the market before time but we waited for the right time and that is how they closed their shop without waiting for the market conditions to ripe and our timely decision is now giving us full benefits. Today we are the market leader in this sector. 

Was it a task to get the broadcasters onboard? How did they initially react to the HITS model?

Yes it was quite a task to get the broadcasters onboard. This became possible only with the help of judicial intervention. The big monopoly houses of the Indian cable industry have been offering resistance at every step of our journey. Nobody doubts the fact that cable digitisation will be a game changer in India. The cable distribution market is flourishing and millions of people in India watch TV via cable. Digitisation is certainly good news for broadcasters and tax authorities because subscriber numbers will be reported accurately and transparently.  Even the subscriber shall benefit from itemised billing detail so that they will be charged only for the channels that they wish to subscribe.

It is true that the vertical chain of the industry stands divided between big and small players.  But, the game is turning in favour of small cable operators and their victory would mean the success of HITS platform.

While a lot of the issues have been resolved with the court ruling in your favour, how have you dealt with the issues the broadcasters were raising, that of piracy?

We have deployed best technology solutions to prevent piracy related issues.  As a company we take ‘Piracy’ very seriously. We have our own anti-piracy teams who look into such piracy issues.

We also work in tandem with our business partners- broadcasters, LCOs, and distributors and take inputs from them to fight back the malice of Piracy. At present, during the audits conducted by the broadcasters they have found our systems working efficiently and exceeding industry standards. 

How big is the company today, in terms of number of offices, employees, ground stations, revenue?

NSTPL is a Public Ltd. profit making company. The business of the company is divided across three verticals:

NSTPL Infra

NSTPL Broadband

JAINHITS

The company has presence across the country with its own offices as well as distribution partners spread across India. NSTPL that operates India’s only National Cable and Broadband Platform called JAINHITS, operates teleports in Greater Noida and Hyderabad, serving 70 broadcasters. The Teleport is duly authorised & licensed by various regulatory bodies such as Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Ministry of Communications, Government of India.

When you started, what was the initial investment that was made into the company? Who were the partners? How have you grown the company over the years?

NSTPL is a closely held Limited Company with fully paid up share capital of Rs 30 crore. 86.66 per cent of its shares are held by  Ankur Services Growth Fund, 13.33 per cent is held by Jain Studio and 0.002 per cent is held by individuals. We have invested approximately Rs 150 crore in JAINHITS since the concept initiation i.e. from April 2012.

The response to JAINHITS has been extremely encouraging and thus, in a short span of one year we have signed up with over 300 cable operator partners across India.

How many TV channels does the platform have currently? How many homes do you reach to and in which regions?

We have around 254 channels today. Out of which 7 channels, namely, Disney, Cartoon Network, Pogo, Discovery, History, TV18, Animal Planet and Nickelodeon have dual audio feeds. Our services are available pan-India.

How will digitisation benefit JAINHITS? What are the steps that are being taken to reap the maximum benefits of digitisation?

Owing to pressure from DTH and on account of the digitisation law, all cable operators have to go digital. JAINHITS provides most cost-effective digitisation solution for such cable operators across India. Any cable operator across India can go completely digital and be fully DAS compliant with mere investment as low as Rs 5-10 lakh, while retaining full control of their business. They also have a chance to enhance their monthly Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) by offering additional value added services like Triple Play Services throughout India – Video, Data & Voice, Broadband Services.

We keep announcing consumer friendly schemes so that our business partners i.e. the cable operator community have the best to offer to its customers. We conduct LCO meets in every state almost once a quarter. This is a platform where partner LCOs along with potential prospective cable operators come face to face and get their concerns addressed. We participate in industry events and expos to reach more and more cable operators.

What are the services that the platform provides to its consumers?

JAINHITS provides a platform of 254 SD channels at present. Very soon we will introduce HD platform and additional value added services like Triple Play Services– Video, Data & Voice, Broadband Services throughout India.

How do you think HITS platform will play a major role in phase III and IV of digitisation? Will you be competing with DTH and MSOs? What's the strategy?

Phase III & IV of digitisation covers over 1350 Municipal Corporation and 597,464 Villages (as per Census 2011) spread in the far flung areas across India. These are the areas where the reach of cable TV is at its lowest level on account of non-availability of adequate infrastructure. For the land based networks and MSOs, this vast area in phase III & IV is the most difficult to reach.

Only and most effective method of reaching this area is through HITS platform. JAINHITS allows all cable operators in these phase III & IV markets to go digital at a miniscule cost of Rs 5 lakh. The platform also provides these cable networks to offer broadband services to their consumers in these far flung areas. Above all, it is the only platform in the country, offering complete empowerment and ownership to even the smallest LCO by making him a leader & cable owner and an ISO (Independent Service Operator). It provides a simple “Plug & Play cost effective digitisation solution” to cable operators.

Recently, MSOs have been facing issues with a few broadcasters like Star and Zee. Also with TDSAT ruling that Star channels will be available on RIO, does that impact JAINHITS in any way? What's your take on the judgment?

We have most of our content available on RIO basis and accordingly we offer our viewers a choice wherein they can opt for A-la-Carte choice of content to meet their individual needs.

Per say this Judgment, really doesn’t affect our business models.

While the cable TV industry in phase I and II are still struggling with packaging and billing, what's the scenario with the HITS platform?

HITS services were envisaged with an inbuilt SMS & CAS system. Accordingly, we at JAINHITS have also sensitized our partners- ‘the need’ of different types of packaging that may be required based on the area they will service. Accordingly, we have created different types of packs that serve the needs of large cross-section of people in India. Billing is automated and done through SMS platform.

Are you looking for funding to go ahead with your plans? Any plans for IPO?

We are indeed looking at funding options and are actively engaged with investors interested in the Indian cable & broadband market.

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