Cable TV

Ground level challenges delay digitsation benefits to MSOs & broadcasters: ICRA

BENGALURU: In a vast country like India, ground level challenges is a key reason that has delayed in multi-system operators (MSOs) and broadcasters reaping the benefits of digitisation. The digitisation of the TV distribution industry, initiated in 2011, is yet to achieve its target of addressability and transparency in billing systems, which was expected to yield significant benefits to MSOs and broadcasters as per a report by Indian investment and ratings agency ICRA on the Indian Media and Entertainment Industry - TV Distribution (September 2015).


Some of the noteworthy points mentioned in the report are as follows:


As MSOs struggle with last mile ?addressability? hurdles for its digitised customer base, the industry?s ability to deliver customised / value added content remains restricted. As a result, the expected benefits of higher subscription revenues for MSOs and broadcasters are yet to be achieved. The end consumers are also yet to benefit from targeted subscription packages, which were expected to optimise the user experience. ICRA believes that end consumers are also yet to benefit from targeted subscription packages. Roll out of channel packages by MSOs remains crucial for driving ARPU growth and profitability as content costs increase.


Implementation challenges and slow progress in Phase I and Phase II markets have restricted monetisation for MSOs due to slow progress in Consumer Application Form (CAF) collections ? effectively LCOs have retained their control over the subscriber base, disputes in sharing of entertainment tax, ARPU is constrained and as yet determined on per subscriber basis, and not on basis of channel packages chosen.


While distributors have witnessed 25-30 per cent decline in carriage income, overall carriage income for distributors has remained buoyant because the disbanding of channels aggregators has given distributors leverage with smaller broadcasters and new channels. Also, new channel launches and wider audience measurement metrics will keep carriage revenues buoyant for MSOs.


DTH players and regional MSOs are likely to take the lead in implementation of Phase III and Phase IV. Extension of deadline for Phase III and Phase IV markets provides adequate time for resolving ground issues as well as coverage for large subscriber base; however lower purchasing power and price sensitive nature of subscribers make investments less attractive. DTH players remain well positioned for tapping growth opportunities in Phase III and Phase IV markets due to inherent technology advantage and easier access to cable dark areas.


Credit profiles unlikely to improve significantly on account of debt funded capex plans.  Longer than expected timelines in monetisation opportunities, higher content costs for digitised areas coupled with ongoing investments for Phase III and IV would keep the return and coverage indicators of MSOs muted in near term. 


While a significant amount of equity funds supported the investments in Phase I and II markets for major MSOs, investments for penetrating Phase III and IV areas, broadband penetration as well as offering value added services (such as Video on Demand) may be largely funded through debt; correspondingly the borrowing levels are expected to remain high over the next two years while the profitability generation from digitised areas stabilise gradually.


In spite of execution delays, in the longer term, digitisation is expected to benefit MSOs, DTH operators and broadcasters through greater customer wallet resulting in higher subscription revenues.


Sizeable subscriber penetration opportunity persists in Phase III and Phase IV markets. The market share dynamics between MSOs and DTH players are expected to change with an uptick in run rate for DTH operators (approximately 20-25 per cent market share in Phase I/II) as the industry progresses towards the Phase III and Phase IV.

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