Cable TV

'We plan to raise Rs 5 billion' : Ravi Mansukhani - Indusind Media & Communications CEO and MD

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Hinduja-owned IndusInd Media & Communications Ltd (IMCL) has survived the scare from a wave of new multi-system operators (MSOs) that threatened to land grab even in the lucrative market of Mumbai.

IMCL has expanded its footprint to 27 cities and thrived on a hefty carriage revenue that helped the MSO turn profitable. In FY‘09, carriage made up for almost 50 per cent of IMCL‘s turnover as broadcasters coughed out Rs 1.4 billion to place their channels on the network.

The media subsidiary company of Hinduja Ventures Ltd plans to list through an initial public offering (IPO). Ahead of that, it is in talks to rope in an investor. The total fund-raising agenda: Rs 5 billion.

Operating its cable TV distribution business under the Incablenet brand, IMCL has agreed to dilute one per cent stake to Ashley Investments at a valuation of $644 million. As part of this exercise, 0.22 per cent has been diluted.

The MSO has aggressive plans to grow in the digital environment. IMCL is also gearing up to grow its fledgling broadband business, after upping its primary connections to 200,000 that would give it access to the last mile.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com‘s Sibabrata Das, Indusind Media & Communications CEO and MD Ravi Mansukhani talks about the MSO‘s growth plans.

Excerpts:

IMCL is planning to take the IPO route. How much are you going to raise?

We are out in the market, looking to raise money. We may get an investor before we possibly do the IPO. We feel this is the best route to take. But if there is no match on our valuations, we will go on our own. We plan to raise Rs 5 billion to fund acquisitions and our digital cable TV expansion. But we are not in a hurry. We want to list with the right fundamentals and the future for digitisation.

Why are cable TV companies suddenly rushing to list?

DEN (Digital Entertainment Networks)a late entrant, is planning an IPO this year. There are media reports also about Hathway Cable & Datacom readying to tap the market. Wire & Wireless India Ltd (WWIL) is in the process of raising money through a rights issue. The fact is that cable TV companies are looking at expansion as they feel there is a huge potential left open. Unfortunately, DTH has not been able to fight analogue cable because of the pricing. And with digital cable growing slowly, DTH has not grown to everybody‘s expectations.

But is it not true that all the DTH operators are mopping up subscribers very aggressively?

DTH is growing either in cable dark or bad cable areas. In urban India, they have made penetration in mostly multiple TV homes and, thus, co-existed with cable. A very small percentage has come at the expense of the cable TV operators, perhaps because the ARPUs (average revenue per user) are low.

A wave of new MSOs have entered the market. How has this affected Incablenet?

In the urban areas, this led to ground warfare as the entrants wanted to grab territory. Subscription rates, undoubtedly, got affected as we had to retain our base. This was particularly felt in case of franchisee fees. But we held on - and are slowly getting back the old rates.

We have actually grown in revenues as we expanded through acquisitions. We are present in 27 cities, up from 12 a couple of years back. We have laid more infrastructure and have over 6000 km of hybrid fibre network. We have posted a 45 per cent growth year-on-year over the last two years. We have also turned around and become profitable.

Wasn‘t this largely because of the steep growth in carriage fee which accounted for almost 50 per cent of IMCL‘s FY‘09 revenues?

Yes, the placement charges helped to a large extent for IMCL turning profitable. But we are no more stuck as just a cable MSO. Though video is the mainstay of our business, we have laid infrastructure and will now aggressively push for broadband.

‘This is a good time to make acquisitions as the cost per point has come down. In prime locations, valuations have fallen by a quarter and in other areas by almost 50%‘

The company has been talking about broadband for the last few years but very little has happened. The revenue from broadband for FY‘09, in fact, was under Rs 50 million. So what changes this time?

The three bottlenecks that hindered our broadband growth are now behind us. Bandwidth costs have fallen. Secondly, we have merged the broadband company with the cable outfit, so that saves us from paying out any network charges. The third and the most important fact is that we have grown our primary points from 50,000 to 200,000 and, as we own the last mile here, we don‘t have to pay commissions to franchisee operators. We are targeting to double our revenues from broadband this year. We will also get into commercial clients as it will give us higher ARPUs. In the retail segment, our ARPU stands at Rs 400

Was there a conscious decision to acquire more of primary points?

When we went in for acquisitions, we ensured that we got into good ARPU areas. We also took care that we acquired 30 per cent of primary connections from the cable networks that we snapped up.

Were you driven to new geographies because of the carriage market and also because of a land grab situation from new competition?

The older MSOs like us expanded into new cities because of the promise of digitisation which would lead to transparency and ensure that we carve out a commission system for ourselves. The new MSOs came under the plank of carriage fees. Undoubtedly, placement charges helped all MSOs to survive and grow - including the digital business.

The economic slowdown is hurting broadcasters and they are pulling down their carriage costs. How is this going to affect IMCL‘s growth this year?

Carriage revenue will not dip but flatten for us this year. There are new channel launches but they are not of that scale as last year‘s. This will be a consolidation year for us.

How much is IMCL investing this year?

We had invested Rs 1 billion in FY‘09, equally split between acquisition, digitisation and laying of infrastructure. For this fiscal, we plan to invest a similar amount. We will add two digital headends to our existing eight. We will also supply digital feed to four more cities during the fiscal, in addition to the four that we have currently linked up.

We have so far seeded 350,000 digital set-top boxes (STBs) across eight cities. We haven‘t got fresh STBs this fiscal as the government has imposed duty on the import of boxes. But we have placed orders and expect supplies to arrive in November. Our target is to add 150,000-200,000 boxes during the fiscal. The Commonwealth Games in Delhi also could act as a big boost if the government comes out with a digitisation policy to coincide with that event.

Will you be aggressive on acquisitions this year?

We will continue to make acquisitions where we see an opportunity being thrown on us at the right value. This is a good time to buy as the cost per point has come down. In prime locations, valuations have fallen by a quarter and in other areas by almost 50 per cent. Operators need the support of bigger MSOs because of the huge subsidy in digital boxes. We will consolidate in states where we are already present.

And there will be more disturbance on the ground?

Warfare for territory will reduce as the new MSOs will not be that aggressive. Money is drying up and they are back in the market trying to raise funds.

Is there a drive to restructure the content business under associate company Planet E-Shop Holdings India Ltd?

The movie business is moving into Planet E-Shop. This is also housing the distribution of channels for retail and commercial. We are distributing ESPN in Mumbai and are in talks with two other major broadcasters. We have also taken up marketing and distribution of foreign channels like Arirang and Miracle Channel that seek downlinking in India. We are looking at signing up three more foreign channels this year.

Will the cable movie channel, CVO, move into this company?

The channel is part of IMCL and there are no plans as of now to shift this out. We may make it a pay channel down the road as the digital environment grows. We have bought 100 movies this year and are planning to add 300-400 more as prices have fallen. The revenues are getting squeezed for cable movie channels. But we have a library of 700 movies and later may create thematic channels for digital subscribers.

What plans do you have to grow the content side of the business?

We will create server-based local channels when the time is ripe. Cable news channels in metros may not be viable as it makes more sense to get placement fees than run your own channel in a choked analogue environment. The situation can be different in smaller towns. Our interest is to create these server-based local channels that do not depend on advertising but pay revenues.

Will the cable movie channel, CVO, move into this company?

The channel is part of IMCL and there are no plans as of now to shift this out. We may make it a pay channel down the road as the digital environment grows. We have bought 100 movies this year and are planning to add 300-400 more as prices have fallen. The revenues are getting squeezed for cable movie channels. But we have a library of 700 movies and later may create thematic channels for digital subscribers.

What plans do you have to grow the content side of the business?

We will create server-based local channels when the time is ripe. Cable news channels in metros may not be viable as it makes more sense to get placement fees than run your own channel in a choked analogue environment. The situation can be different in smaller towns. Our interest is to create these server-based local channels that do not depend on advertising but pay revenues.

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