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Digitisation has failed to show increase in ARPUs: Deloitte

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NEW DELHI: Although carriage fees saw a reduction of 15-20 per cent after the first two phases of digitisation, the delay in implementation of the various phases of digitisation means the promised jump in subscription revenues and average revenue per user (ARPU) has not materialized.

The recently launched Digitization and Mobility: Next frontier of growth for M&E, report by Deloitte states, “One year into the implementation of digitisation, the cable and broadcast sector is still trying to iron out creases and get systems in place. The key goal of digitisation was addressability, which was expected to plug leakages in the system. While cable subscribers have been increasing, rampant under-declaration meant, Multi-System Operators (MSOs) that transmitted the signals to cable operators earned little from the large subscriber base.”

In 2014, Deloitte predicts that the digital TV distribution space – both digital cable and Direct-to-Home (DTH) would find ample room for growth given the catalysing effect of digitisation and the headroom for growth provided by non-TV households in the country.

The report prepared for the ASSOCHAM annual M&E meet says about 12 million set-top boxes have been seeded and 80 per cent consumer application forms have been received as of December 2013. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) claims 100 per cent digitisation in DAS phase II.

TRAI has also said recommendations on the new DTH licences would be brought out very soon.

HITS licenses which have been issued to two players, is expected to enable digitisation in phase III and phase IV markets.

Meanwhile, the report notes, “Complaints have poured in against set-top boxes. People in the city are complaining about digital set-top boxes installed in their houses and offices. Visual and sound disturbances coupled with channels going off air from time to time have left viewers unhappy.”

It also notes that “in the haste to install set-top boxes in the city, cable operators have overlooked a crucial step - that of filling in the Cable Access Form (CAF) before installation of the device. The purpose behind mandating DAS was to identify the actual number of cable viewers in the country. But with most customers not filling in the form, the purpose still remains defeated.”

“With penetration of TV in India standing at approximately 65 per cent, at present, the country has close to 80 million non-TV households, which presents a key opportunity for the television distribution players. This low level of penetration holds a great potential for players to increase their subscribers and revenues. Drivers such as rising incomes, decreasing household size, multi TV phenomenon and rising urbanisation would only provide a further fillip.”

Noting that the government’s digitisation mandate is “slowly but steadily progressing towards its target,” the report says the television distribution space is abuzz with prospects, albeit it would call for investments and improvements, especially from the digital cable players. All metros except Chennai have been largely digitised and the phase II of digitisation, which covers 38 cities, is also nearing completion. Phase III and IV of digitisation targets December 2014 for their completion. This would mean digitisation of additional 40 to 50 million households in the balance towns.”

The report also says that phase III aims to focus on digitisation of all urban areas (municipal areas). Given the extensive coverage of MSOs and LCOs in such areas, digital cable is expected to make the most in the relatively densely populated areas, notwithstanding the churn of subscribers to DTH. In the first phase of digitisation, DTH operators were able to grab 20 per cent of subscribers converting them from analog to digital.

Phase IV aims to focus on digitisation for the rest of India, which predominantly aims at rural areas and tier II cities. DTH is expected to gain the most in areas with sparse population and inadequate cable infrastructure.

Digitisation phases, scope and affected subscribers

Digitisation phase               Scope                                        Subscribers affected (million)

Phase I                            Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai        8-10

Phase II                           All cities with population > 1 million   12-14

Phase III                          All urban areas (Municipal areas)        30-35

Phase IV                         Rest of India                                               22-25

Source: Industry discussions

DTH, as a sector, had started off by concentrating on rural areas, which were deprived of cable infrastructure and gradually also entered the urban markets. However, they are still strong in rural markets.

Given the complexity of the exercise across the country and the rate at which television penetration is growing (MPA expects India to have 183 million pay-TV homes by 2020); the scale of undertaking of digitisation will be a big challenge.  

But it says analysts and sector professionals agree the future looks promising with the lessons learnt from phases I and II.

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