Cable TV

Aim to take phase 3 ARPU to phase 1 value: Den Networks' SN Sharma

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MUMBAI: Den Networks has an ambitious plan charted out for its cable and broadband business for the coming two to three years. In an interview to Bloomberg Quint, Den Networks CEO SN Sharma highlighted the company’s plan to increase revenue and subscription.

For the multi-system operator (MSO), digitisation of phase III in India was almost over 10 months ago and certain parts of phase IV were left by all operators. Sharma said that it may take six to eight months to wind this up. “In the last 12 months, we seeded close to five million set-top boxes (STBs) in phase III. Today, we have a tall figure of 11.5 million digital homes out of which 8.5 million are paying,” he said.

The average revenue per user (ARPU) for Den has gone up substantially over the last two years. Even tier I and II towns had low ARPU of Rs 120 and Rs 80-90 a year ago. Two years ago, the ARPU for tier I and II towns was Rs 60-70 and Rs 50-60, respectively. Today, the ARPU is at Rs 144 for phase I and Rs 112 for phase II. Sharma also said that the company was able to make up 50 per cent of the subscription revenue from the cable operators from phase I while this was 40-45 per cent in phase II markets.

Phase III ARPUs are still low at Rs 76 out of the ground rate of Rs 150-175. “As we move forward, cable operators know they have to catch up with phase I ARPUs and will gradually increase it with subscription and, accordingly, the same will be shared with us,” he added.

The aim is to take the current ARPU of phase III up to Rs 144 in two years’ time. “The phase I journey has been successful and a confident path has been set. There is no reason this Rs 76 doesn’t move to Rs 140 level in 2-2.5 years’ time,” he said adding that 50 per cent of the digital universe was phase III and IV. Phase IV ARPU stands at Rs 66.

Den is talking to broadcasters and peers to increase subscription levels in phase I areas and Sharma said that discussions were actively progressing. “There is headroom to increase this [subscription]. You will see changes in bouquets and packages offered so overall revenue can be taken up,” he shared.

One of the ways to do this will be by focussing on HD STBs now. The target for the next 12 months is to convert 10 per cent of its SD base into HD, which will allow the MSO to add another Rs 60-70 per box. Another way is by gradually increasing the number of boxes seeded in phase IV that is currently at the rate of 40,000-50,000 a month.

The company has a system to ensure that all reported boxes are activated. When a box doesn’t yield payment for more than three months, it is removed out of the declaration and considered a dead box. Here, Sharma lauds the system for being as efficient as telecom operators that withdraw service  if a subscriber doesn’t pay.

The entrance of players like Jio, Airtel and Vodafone has definitely changed the broadband game for the company and Sharma admits this. Den’s broadband ARPU is currently Rs 550 with a speed of 50 mbps and unlimited data. He compared it to telcos who offer just 1 gb data a day with best case speed of 9 mbps.

Over the years, data consumption on its platform has increased from 20 gb two years ago to 60 gb last year and is hovering at 80 gb today. “There is a data explosion courtesy Jio, Airtel and Vodafone. We are consciously aware of it and so we talk of unlimited data in high speed,” he said.

Much of its broadband business is concentrated in Delhi with 2 lakh subscribers. However, the tariff war pulled down its ARPU to Rs 600. But the same in Kanpur is Rs 800. The plan is to increase subscribers by 6 lakh in three years taking the total to about 8 lakh.

Sharma is confident that the entire business needs external funding since it is witnessing healthy growth in subscription and ARPU and no subsidy is being offered on HD boxes. Even the broadband business has been fibre infrastructure. About Rs 100-120 crore will be required for the coming three years, which will be managed through internal accruals.

Also Read :

Subscription revenue drives up Den's PAT

Den Networks appoints Himanshu Jindal as CFO

TDSAT rules in favor of DEN Networks, directs ZEE entertainment to provide channels on RIO basis

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