Digital fallout: DTH cos set to lose, broadcasters poised to reap benefits

MUMBAI: Change is constant and change is good…. however, it seems like change isn’t good for all. While the proliferation of digital platforms giving an impetus to online videos, will turn out to be a boon for broadcasters, direct to home (DTH) operators however, are set to lose out.


According to a research report by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, just like in the West, online video content will disrupt India’s Pay TV market. While broadcasters will benefit because of ad supported content monetisation, DTH players will suffer because of pressure on ARPUs. Moreover DTH companies are also poised to lose most as the price-sensitive Indian consumers will refrain from paying premium for content on live television when they have online alternatives.


Broadcasters are well placed to monetise content on digital platforms as it only increases the opportunities. As a result, ad revenues are expected to improve following a pick up in economy. The report states that broadcasters will be able to improve their content monetisation through increased ad revenues and better declaration of subs in a digitised environment.


For DTH companies, despite digitisation delay, there will be improvements in the average revenue per user (ARPU) driven by the following factors: 1) HD channel penetration increase; 2) Differential tariff hikes; and 3) MSOs hiking tariffs to maintain profitability – offering DTH players more headroom to raise tariffs.


Creating a scenario comprising Zee TV (broadcaster) and Dish TV (DTH), Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s analysis suggests that the overall risks are skewed to the upside for broadcaster Zee and to the downside for DTH operator Dish TV.


According to the report, Zee has underperformed the markets by eight per cent year-to-date (YTD) on concerns about the loss in market share due to channel fragmentation and investments in new channels. “Post the share-price underperformance, we see the risk-reward as favourable since, in our view, the market is now factoring in all the risks, but not giving full benefits of strong ad growth, monetisation of new content and digitisation benefits,” the report states.


Factoring in the positives for Dish TV, the report says that though digitisation is inevitable, the expectations on timelines are optimistic and complete benefits of digitisation will be seen only by FY2020-21. However, over the next 12 months, ARPU improvements are expected due to: 1) MSOs hiking tariffs to maintain margins; 2) Increased penetration of HD channels; and 3) Differential price hikes in urban areas. “However, Dish TV has outperformed the market by 65 per cent YTD, and we see most of the positives are priced in,” says the report.


The upside of digitisation will be gradual. Citing risks and benefits of digitisation, the report says that it sees the risk of distributors (MSOs and DTH players) not realising the full potential of digitisation as the pace of roll out is slower than what the market is anticipating. Moreover, by the time the full benefits of digitisation are realised, the new-age video disruptors, internet-enabled smart devices like mobile, TV and PC will start eating into the revenues of Pay TV and MSOs like they have done in the West. Additionally, though phase-I and II of digitisation is complete, the expected benefits have not flowed to the players because of issues like MSOs/LCOs tussle and absence of customer billing. “There has been some progress on resolving the issues but it has been slow. These problems will only increase with roll out in phase-III and IV areas,” the report states.


In the next few years, the Indian media sector is expected to evolve as digitisation gradually picks up, fragmentation of channels increases and all companies (broadcasters, DTH and MSOs) evolve their business models in face of online content proliferation.


Positive on broadcasters: Content still the king


According to the report, companies like Zee will benefit from an improvement in ad growth (led by GDP uptake) and expect to benefit from content fragmentation as it is one of the better companies leveraging this trend. “Over time, as traffic will shift to smart devices, we expect consumption of video content to increase. This presents increasing opportunities for broadcasters to monetise content. With improving economic activities, digitisation rollout and pressure on distributors’ P&L, we expect both advertisement and subscription revenues of broadcasters to increase. On the other hand, we believe that given the reluctance of Indian consumers to pay for online consumption, content on smart devices (smartphones, PCs, tablets) will be monetised primarily through advertisements,” the report states.


DTH: Digitisation is gradual; ARPU improvement to flow in


Despite slow digitisation, companies like Dish TV are likely to improve their ARPUs and EBITDA margins over next 12-18 months. The ARPU improvement will be led by the following factors: 1) MSOs facing some pressure from broadcasters to hike tariffs allowing DTH operators to follow them; 2) Increased penetration of HD channels; and 3) Players like Dish TV implementing differential pricing across cities to improve realisations and monetising on its “Zing” offering.


MSOs: Broadband push is the next big story


With the ongoing tussle between MSOs and LCOs, the full benefits of digitisation will come gradually for MSOs. As a result, MSOs are likely to focus on other revenue streams like broadband subs. According to checks carried out by Bank of American-Merrill Lynch, there’s increasing focus by MSOs to improve their broadband coverage, which would help cross-sell services overtime and have direct control over subs. The major MSOs have already started experimenting with high-speed broadband in high-density urban areas, and slowly they will start rolling out in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.


Key risks:


1) Economy not picking up: Any slower-than-expected economic uptake may lead to material downgrades to our consensus ad revenue numbers for Zee. 


2) LCOs/MSOs tussle unable to reach a solution: Continued tussle between LCO and MSO (LCOs are unwilling to share consumer details with MSOs in order to guard their turf) will impact ARPU improvements for the sector. 


3) Rise in piracy: With the proliferation of online content and new mediums of consumption, we may see a rise in piracy. In such a scenario, it will impact the entire industry negatively as it would be difficult to monetise the content effectively.

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