's Perspectives

What's cooking on Dish TV?


(Posted on 9 March 2004)

The Rs 4 billion DTH project would go down in the annals of Indian TV industry for being the first off the block, if not for anything else. With 48 channels to begin with - mostly belonging to the Zee Turner bouquet - the Zee / ASC combine put on air a vanilla DTH service in the first week of
October 2003 at a monthly subscription rate, Rs 100 (slightly over $2).

News Corp COO Peter Chernin

At the time, Rupert Murdoch's right hand man in News Corp, Peter Chernin, scoffed at the Dish TV service and told in France during an industry meet that when Star, along with its Indian partner, launches a DTH service it would the real thing.

But such criticism has not deterred the Chandra companies from going ahead with its plans, though it cannot be said that Zee's DTH has been hurtling down the fast lane.

Points out Zee Telefilms vice-chairman Jawahar Goel, who is also spearheading the implementation aspect of the DTH service based out of Delhi, "Critics would always be there, but the proof of the the pudding is in the eating. If our services were so bad, would ESPN and Star Sports have joined the platform?"

After much dilly-dallying, ESPN and Star Sports channels came aboard the Dish TV platform last month saying doubts that they had on security of the delivery mechanism, amongst other things, had been cleared by Dish TV.

But a big stumbling block still for aggressive acquisition of subscribers for Dish TV is the non-availability of Star and Sony bouquet of channels. Though Goel would like us to believe that it is just a "matter of time" when the popular channels come on board, critics do feel that the sooner the broadcasters decide amongst themselves, the better it would be for the industry as in India, unlike the West, people would want their daily dose of normal TV too on a DTH platform, apart from some premium content. Because a DTH service is driven by content, which needs to be a mix of basic and premium programming.

"Focus, like Zee, ought to be on deploying existing proprietary content (that is, existing internally produced channels) and making new internal content, both mass market and premium/niche. Plus, there should be efforts on getting content from other channels (like Sony and the internationals)," points out MPA's Couto.

Maybe the realisation is dawning on ASC-Zee combine too that the faster their act is put in place the better. Especially as Rupert Murdoch's Star Group is likely to unleash hectic activities having tied up with the Tata group for a DTH venture.

The Dish TV service was launched with a monthly subscription of Rs 100, plus taxes, for a basic bouquet of 48 channels and an introductory offer of Rs 3,990, plus tax, for CPE (customer premise equipment), including a vanilla set-top box. But now, as Essel Group (the mother entity for Chandra's various businesses)'s corporate brand development group head Ashish Kaul points out, it's time to move on.

Dish TV is adding 50 more channels to its DTH platform taking the tally to 100 by April end. There are plans to add another 100 channels in another one year taking the tally to over 200.

Though Dish TV is not willing to disclose the details of the genre or the type of channels that would be added to the bouquet by next month or early May, Goel points out, "The broad contours of the plans are moving as scheduled. We had said that we'd increase the number of channels as our capacity to beam them increases over a period of time and we are doing so."

Dish TV's marketing gameplan is a bit unique. It's not aggressively targeting the urban areas or the metros. The reason being that in the initial stages, Chandra's team doesn't wish to cannibalize its cable distribution business where Zee Telefilms' Siti Cable enjoys the largest market share as the biggest multi-system operator (MSO) in the country with a subscriber base of over eight million households.

Goel feels that with a total population of one billion people and 44 million cable and satellite households, there are still opportunities galore to penetrate through with a DTH service in the country. "Simply because there are drawbacks in the ground infrastructure and there are vast terrain in the country where laying of cable is very difficult or almost impossible, leaving a DTH service as a good option for people," Goel, one of the younger brothers of Chandra, explains as he totes up numbers from around the country.

So, a bulk of the claimed DTH subscribers is coming from non-urban and smaller cities and villages of India in states like Punjab, Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh, and even Jammu & Kashmir. Admits Kaul, "We are not proactively marketing DTH in metros. On an average, Dish TV claims to be receiving 20 e-mails a week on inquiries related to the DTH service. The places range from Alibagh, Raigarh, Bathinda, Ropar, Hardwar, Allahabad and Saharsa.

But are the inquiries getting translated into actual subscribers? Says group president and CEO of ASC Enterprises Punit Goenka, "The fact that we have over 100,000 subscribers, that too without a marketing blitzkrieg, is a reflection in itself that people don't just want to see the so-called popular channels that you are referring to. DTH is not an alternative to cable as both will coexist and compliment each other in a country like India."

Though it's a bit hard to digest - the claimed subscriber base, that is - Zee insiders insist that technically Goel isn't incorrect. The number that is being bandied around is based on the hardware units that have been picked up by the distributors of Dish TV, which need not necessarily
mean that all the hardware picked up from the Dish TV has got installed on customers' premises.

Still, Zee insiders say there would be approximately 40,000 consumers who have Dish TV equipment installed on their premise.

Having managed to get a toehold in the market with its "soft launch", Dish TV would see a marketing and communications blitzkrieg by April end this year.

Would Dish TV be able to maintain the momentum and stand up to the competition from the Tata-Star combine? A difficult question to answer as Zee has been known to fritter away early advantages.

Also read:
The International Scenario
FAQs regarding DTH






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