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Change in investor mindset needed for MSOs to chart growth path

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GOA: While the direct-to-home (DTH) sector has managed to attract investment from private investors because of its growth, the cable industry will be able to do so only if multi-system operators (MSOs) add broadband to their services.

This was the general consensus of a session on ‘Investing in Digital assets – Gems and long bets’ at the ongoing Indian Digital Operators Summit (IDOS) 2015 organised by Indiantelevision.com and Media Partners Asia.

HSBC Securities and Capital Markets (India) Pvt Ltd director of analyst telecoms, media and Internet Rajiv Sharma said that DTH had gained as it has shown growth in terms of average revenue per user (ARPU), and innovation.

While the stocks of cable industry initially went down, a reading of the figures of both cable and DTH showed that there was some recovery towards the end of the year. “The MSOs have not matched up to expectations, partly because of MSO-local cable operator problems,” Sharma said.

In the session moderated by Castle Media ED Vynsley Fernandes, Sharma said that broadband can be the catalyst, which can bring in growth but only one or two MSOs have entered the broadband space.

“The scale of growth is directly linked to attracting investments. If LCOs (local cable operators) can show that they own subscribers, they will get investment,” Sharma said. However, he was quick to add that broadband infrastructure and broadband compliant STBs (set top boxes) would help.

Asked about collaborations, Sharma said that the media can learn a lot from telecom where networking and collaborations led to the government thinking in terms of letting them sell or share spectrum. “Telecoms focus on revenues to share, while the cable industry wants finance for set top boxes,” he said.

Replying to a question about the slow growth of broadband in the country, he said, “Anything that is wireline will grow slowly whereas wireless will grow much faster. The consumer is willing to pay but it is for the government to facilitate this.”

Sharma also added that the quality of management, profitability and network will attract investments. He regretted that the cable industry had failed to learn any lessons from the first two phases of the Digital Addressable Systems (DAS).

Concurring with Sharma, MPA executive director Vivek Couto added, “Investors reward growth and DTH did exactly that.” However, he was of the opinion that the last mile operator (LMO) will consolidate under the Headend In The Sky (HITS) platform and that may change the situation. “The results will begin to show in the three to four years,” he said.

Referring to NXT Digital, which was prepared to offer funding, he said that LMOs may now come forward.

Couto added that while organized MSOs were doing well, investment in broadband in the short term would bring in benefits in the long term.

In reply to a question, he said that India was the only country where content generation was growing. “But in all this, the cable industry was feeling lost,” he opined.

Indiantelevision.com founder CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari had the last word when he said that the mindset of investors had to change as few MSOs in India could today afford the kind of growth their counterparts had shown in foreign countries.

In another session, Maharashtra Cable Operators Foundation president Arvind Prabhoo and Sagar E-Technologies executive director Sudhish Kumar agreed that the cable industry had to organise itself better if it was to attract investments and grow in the digital era.

Prabhoo said he had succeeded to an extent in this by getting the LCOs to be seen as the last mile operator (LMO). In an example of how the LMOs can grow, he said, “30 LMOs in Nagpur have joined together to form an MSME and were not prepared to invest in other LMOs,” he said.

He added that if investors put in money to help create model services, there will be a major change in the next six months or so. “If cable operators offer other services through their STBs, there will be a churn in the industry,” he said.

Kumar, who has a headend in Bangalore, lamented that finance was a major problem. “One STB cost around Rs 1500, but some of the larger MSOs sell boxes for around Rs 1000 and this forced others to sell at lower rates, which in turn results in a loss,” he said.

Emphasising on the fact that MSOs were not concentrating on marketing, he said that if they did, it would help in consolidating the industry.

Citing his own example, he said that he had not lost a single LMO despite having had ups and downs in his company because of the faith reposed in the company.

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