Television

"We expect to touch Rs 225 crore in revenues" : Shantonu Aditya Discovery-SET India president

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Shantonu Aditya, Sony Entertainment Television India's head of distribution as well as president of the Discovery-SET India joint venture company, is a satisfied man from the look of things.

The One Alliance distribution platform is looking increasingly powerful after the recent announcement that Prannoy Roy's two news channels NDTV Samachar (Hindi) and NDTV News (English) will be coming aboard in April3.

Coming as it does on top of the addition of premium movie channnel HBO in January and on the back of the cricket that MAX has, Aditya is confident that One alliance will end this fiscal as the numero uno distribution network in the country.

Speaking to indiantelevision.com, Aditya paints a positive picture of the position that the One Alliance holds in the distribution stakes.

Excerpts -

When we last spoke in September, you'd said that you wanted to end the year as the Number 1 network not only in terms of subscriber numbers and revenues but also customer care and relationship management. Are you on track to achieve both?

As of the end of February we have hit 6 million paid subscribers, so we are on target. We are now the largest distribution network in terms of real collections as opposed to billings. And this has been seen consistently over the last three months

As far as the second part of your question is concerned we have organised a number of initiatives which have mainly centred around cricket. We took our brand ambassador Kapil Dev to various cities across the country.

We've also held the One Alliance Challenger cricket series where we held 30-over matches in 30 cities. Then of course for the ongoing World Cup we have organised trips to South Africa for 150 cable operators in three batches. Two batches have already gone.

This has helped in our relationship building efforts and has had an indirect effect in improving declarations.

Again referring back to our last conversation, you'd said that you were expecting 25 to 30 per cent of Sony network's revenues to come from distribution this fiscal. Are you sticking to that assessment.

Certainly. This year distribution will contribute 25 per cent of Sony's total revenues. That's a huge jump from the 3 per cent last year.

What are the revenues you expect to garner from distribution? I have been told it is Rs 200 crores (Rs 2,000 million).

We will cross Rs 200 crores. We are actually expecting to touch Rs 225 crores.

Could you chart the significant happenings on the distribution front in these last few months?

In terms of landmarks, the learnings of selling sport really came to the fore in September during the Champions Trophy. This provided a big boost as far as leveraging the One Alliance platform was concerned.

In December we added HBO, which really advanced our distribution in the south and metros. This further built on the momentum we got after Discovery became part of the platform last March.

The seeding of HBO (set top) boxes is still on and by the end of April we should have completed the process when 5,000 will be out in the market. We expect to touch 14 to 15 million homes by then. When we took over they were about 10 million homes.

"With cricket and the addition of HBO we can truly say we are the Number 1 distribution network. "

While all these factors have helped the network it must be accepted that it was really the World Cup which got our declarations up to the 6 million mark.

It also significantly added to our image and equity in the market.

With cricket and the addition of HBO we can truly say we are the Number 1 distribution network.

And further feeding the momentum are the NDTV news channels, which will join the platform from 1 April.

The response has been phenomenal and that has been a bit of a surprise considering that the channels have still to launch. We expect to seed 5,000 boxes by May (3,500 boxes for the Hindi channel and 1,500 for the English one). We are targeting 10,000 by December for the news channels. The strategy is to reach all networks where Sony is present.

The other thing is on the issue of piracy. We have secured a Delhi high Court injunction last Friday that restrains anyone getting the signal of either MAX or Sony without authorisation from us.

Have you given any thought to the pricing of the NDTV channels?

That is still being worked out.



Considering that Aaj Tak is still free, won't that be a hindrance in your distribution effort?

Well, there is also the strength of the network to back it up.

There are those who believe that at Rs 55 per subscriber, you didn't convey the message across very well that considering the fact that HBO had come onto the platform and also with the cricket, there was in fact not that heavy an increase in prices? Additionally, many believe that on the back of the World Cup you could have pushed through a bigger rate hike.

The fact that the our new rates have gone down smoothly with the cable ops speaks for itself.



As far as your other question is concerned, the point is that we are not a just World Cup channel. We have a post-World Cup strategy in place also. I could have skimmed the market on the back of the World Cup but I preferred a carefully considered rate structure that can be sustained.

Coming to the issue of conditional access, the cable operators are claiming that the broadcasters are simply resorting to delaying tactics in not announcing their channel pricing. They say there should be no link between the FTA pricing and the pay channel pricing. What do you have to say on this?

The FTA package is crucial because it is the first step in the pricing strategy. There are three interlinked parts to this equation - the FTA package, the pay channel pricing and the margins between broadcasters and cable ops as far the subscriber revenue collections are concerned.

What everyone is losing track of is the bigger issue of the boxes. Choosing a robust, piracy free box is crucial to the success of CAS. There is a 14 July deadline but no orders have been placed.

Then there is the upgradation of the headends that need to be done. This involves huge investments, but is this happening?

There are many questions that still need to be answered on this issue.

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