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NXT Digital 'hits' Indian market with total outlay of Rs 5000 crore

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NEW DELHI : After three and half years of struggle, Hinduja’s Headend In The Sky (HITS) platform NXT Digital finally got rolling with a total project outlay of approximately Rs 5000 crore. The mammoth investment will be utilised as the business continues to design and develop new products and services for a growing customer base as well as strive to enhance its own standards.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley officially launched the venture in the presence of Hinduja Group chairmanAshok Hinduja and Grant Investrade MD Tony D’Silva.

Launching the platform, Jaitley said, “Multiple carriage technologies will provide customers more choice as to which technology platform to choose.”

While Hinduja Ventures has set an initial budget of Rs 5000 crore for the project, the chairman is open to investing more if necessary. “We are here to aggressively back this initiative and if necessary we will invest double or triple the allocated budget. Last mile operators (LMOs) are the one who started the business by laying the first cable and this venture is for them,” Hinduja said.

The HITS project will not only facilitate over 100 million homes go digital in Phase III & IV digitisation markets but will also raise the standards of quality of service. 

To acquire the base model of a Cable Operators Premises Equipment (COPE), one has to pay Rs 10.60 lakh while the premium one can be acquired after a payment of Rs 14 lakh. The amount appears high for the LMOs but Hinduja said that the Group also has a finance group, which would help the LMOs. “The project has a lot of securities and the investment is certain to provide returns so it is a safe investment. We have insurance schemes for the operators so their investment is safe,” he added.

According to D’Silva, the consumer will have to pay a maximum of Rs 50 per month. NXT Digital is presently equipped to beam up to 500 channels and this capacity can be raised to 1000. The earth station is in Sector 62 in Noida in the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi. NXT Digital has six transponders at present.

D’Silva also noted that it was interesting that the last two phases of Digital Addressable Cable TV System (DAS) provided for only 32 per cent of the revenue though they would cover a much larger area.

The DAS Phase III and IV areas, which are estimated to have more than 120 million home, are the prime focus of NXT Digital. To succeed in occupying 15 per cent of the market, the company will have to provide set top boxes (STBs) to 20 million home, which is a huge demand to supply. However, Hinduja is bullish about meeting the demand on time and optimistic that the platform will not face a situation where there will be shortage of boxes.

NXT Digital is also positioning itself as a adopter of the government’s Make in India, Digital India and Skill India initiatives, which according to Hinduja was the byword for the Group. The LMOs in the DAS III and IV areas have to be skilfully equipped with modern technologies that NXT Digital will be bringing in.

Asked about how his system was different from the already existing – NSTPL’s JainHits – Hinduja said that the aim of the Hinduja Group was to protect the LCOs because it was they who had built this industry in the late eighties. “Therefore, the LMO will not lose out in any way, will be fully in charge of his own company, and will have full freedom to operate in his own way,” he said.

When queried as to why it had taken the Group three years to get a licence when there was no cap on HITS, Hinduja said, “Formalities take time.”

He also said that wherever someone tries to bring in transparency in any system, there are objections. He was also conscious that there was competition in the field and this may even lead to some legal hassles, but his Group was prepared for everything.

Hinduja said that he was conscious of the matter relating to NSTPL pending in TDSAT, which sought that broadcasters treat HITS players at par with multi system operators (MSOs). He said the NXT Digital viewpoint had been presented at the hearings.

Senior Hinduja executive Aubin Das said that the NXT Digital platform also took efforts to curb the issue of piracy and if LMOs attempt to put on the channel of a broadcaster in the slots meant for local channels, it could be immediately traced and stopped.

Commenting on the training and development initiatives Castlemedia director Vynsley Fernandes said, “We are travelling to every nook and corner of the country to skilfully equip and train people about our technological upliftment and it is a chain system. Around 200 people have been trained under a ‘Train the Trainer’ programme and they will train others. And we are not equipping them only about NXT Digital we are introducing them to the next generation.”

D’Silva said that under NXT Digital, the LMO gets to continue their ownership, enter into broadcasting deals, do packaging and pricing according to market demands, acquire STBs at cheaper rates, run up to 16 local channels, and compete with direct-to-home (DTH) operators.

He added that DTH was on Ku-Band, which got disturbed in rainy or inclement weather, but HITS being on C-Band will not be disturbed. Furthermore, the HITS headend was on ground while DTH had to depend on satellites. Furthermore, NXT Digital will be able to service both DAS and non-DAS areas.

NXT Digital focused marketing and subscription drive in the Phase III & IV markets. The company has so far travelled across 400 districts in 20 states to contact and inform the cable fraternity there about its offerings. As of now it has 14 vans touring various parts of the country to give live demonstrations to LMOs and LCOs. 

Welcoming the move, Maharashtra Cable Operators Federation president and task force member Arvind Prabhu said, “I would like to congratulate AP Hinduja, with this initiative he actually kickstarts the process of digitisation. Mr Hinduja thought about the last mile operators and came up with NXT Digital, which will help LCOs getting their due. The other HITS platform is providing the COPE at a cheaper price and that will be a challenge. The pricing that we got from them are really good but considering the fact that DAS III and DAS IV areas do not come under ratings I believe there can be further negotiation with the broadcaster. Overall I believe it’s a move for the LCOs.”

LCO from Assam and Task Force member Md Iquebal Ahmed also welcomed the HITS venture. “Operators cannot afford headends and MSOs take total advantage of it and in that context, it’s a great initiative. But the content pricing needs to come out transparently. Affordable pricing is what we are looking forward to.”

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