Asianet to go fully digital in a year

MUMBAI: Asianet Satellite Communications Ltd, promoted by Rajan Raheja who also controls Hathway Cable & Datacom, has taken the radical decision of switching off its analogue cable TV service within a year and plans to make a fresh investment of Rs 1 billion as it pushes to become India‘s first multi-system operator (MSO) to offer only digital cable.

For starters, the Kerala-based MSO has just completed converting Trivandrum into a full digital network. Asianet is offering its Trivandrum subscribers five bouquet options up to 150 channels and plans to upgrade this to 220 channels within three months.

"We have become the first cable TV service provider in India to achieve this milestone, well ahead of the national government‘s full digitisation mandate by December 2014. We have 75,000 direct subscribers in Trivandrum and our target is to completely digitise our network in Kerala within nine months," said Asianet Satellite Communications president and COO Sankaranarayana.

Asianet has already invested Rs 1 billion towards digitisation and seeded 350,000 set-top boxes. The net-breakeven regional MSO has 615,000 direct subscribers.

"We will be investing Rs 1 billion within a year. We will require Rs 750 million to digitise our direct subscribers. We are also looking at doing some amount of digitisation for secondary subscribers," said Sankaranaryana.

Asianet offers the digital set-top boxes free. "We are subsidising the STBs. We believe our pay channel content cost will come down. The ARPU (average revenue per user) for digital is Rs 200 while in case of analogue is Rs 150," averred Sankaranaryana.

Asianet, which was in talks with US private equity giant Providence for diluting a minority stake in 2007, is not looking at offloading any equity now. "We are not in talks with any private equity firm. We have decided to digitise our network on our own. We have access to vendor financing and debt. We have a healthy Ebitda because we own the last mile," said Sankaranaryana.

Kerala‘s dominant MSO has a technical tie up with Cisco for digitisation. "Digitisation will also help us in further improving our broadband services," said Sankaranaryana.

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