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Delay in Phase III monetisation likely to disturb profitability of MSOs: ICRA

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MUMBAI: In the cable TV space, in the current fiscal the revenue growth of multiple system operators (MSOs) will remain sensitive to regulatory changes, says ICRA. While lifting of stay orders and consequent discontinuation of analog signals in Phase III markets will remain a key subscription revenue growth driver, any extension with respect to Phase IV deadline (beyond December 31, 2016) will impact the activation revenues.

With an estimated population of over 60 million households in Phase IV markets, cable TV players do not anticipate any extension in Phase IV deadline. However, the implementation is expected to be along the experience of Phase III, with analog signals being discontinued in a phased manner. Of the analog population in Phase III and Phase IV markets, residual analog subscriber base amongst the top three MSOs stood at ~9.5 million subscribers only (as on March 31, 2016), against a total analog population of over 6 0 million in the country, indicating healthy growth opportunities for DTH operators and regional MSOs. In this direction, DTH operators have introduced lower priced vanilla STBs and channel packages to tap the opportunity in Phase IV markets; however, DD Free Dish is also expected to emerge as a key player in Phase IV, given the price sensitive nature of subscribers.

“Over the last few years, market leaders in the cable TV space have adopted an inorganic growth strategy for entering new geographies and increasing their subscriber universe, consolidation in the cable TV space is expected to continue as MSOs look at further strengthening their market position in their respective geographies,” says ICRA Ratings SR GVP Subrata Ray.

While the overall placement revenues are expected to remain buoyant, driven by new channel launches and the inclusion of tier II and tier III markets in audience measurement metrics; some correction on account of the change in the nature of content deals (net of placement revenues) with larger broadcasting networks is anticipated. While the subject of discontinuation of analog signals in Phase III markets remains under litigation, monetisation of the Phase III markets is expected to get deferred by nearly a year before the benefits of the healthy STB seeding, achieved in Phase III markets, start percolating.

“In view of the potential delays in Phase III monetisation, ability of the MSOs to improve cost efficiencies and ARPUs from Phase I and Phase II markets remains crucial to support the profitability metrics in the current fiscal,” says Ray.

During this transition phase, the cash accruals of MSOs are expected to improve gradually as incremental capex requirements are likely to remain low.

“The capex outlay of MSOs over the medium term will be driven towards achieving higher broadband penetration in identified markets; investments in LCO management and improving penetration of value-added services such as HD channels and Video-on-Demand in digitised markets. In addition, replacement capex for STBs seeded in Phase I and Phase II markets will also drive the investment requirements of MSOs over the medium term,” adds Ray.

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