Boom time for HD channels in India

The High Definition (HD) TV channels landscape is rapidly expanding in India. Amongst the various genres available today, the English general entertainment and movie channels genre is still a fragmented space and networks in their quest to stand apart from the nearest ranking rival, rely excessively upon content, marketing and a host of options among others.


While not much is achieved in the process, the game of throne continues as networks try to outdo one another. A potent yet common weapon that networks are now heavily relying on is by launching HD channels.


What is augmenting well for these networks is the demand by consumers for content that is best experienced in high definition. Since almost all the content in the English category is produced internationally, it makes sense in delivering it to consumers in HD only so that production values receive their due credit and viewers experience it at its best. This hunger for HD has very well transcended into networks now launching or sensing business opportunities by launching new HD channels. In some cases, an HD feed has been introduced to complement the existing Standard Definition (SD) feed. Digitisation will only ensure that the consumption of high definition shoots up further.


Networks and their HD channels


Star India will soon be launching two new HD English general entertainment channels (GECs). Its soon to be launched channel, Star Movies HD Select for a span of one year (365 days) has a content library of 365 movies - one for each day. About 50 per cent of the content comprises award winning Oscars and Golden Globes titles. To name a few, the channel has The Fault In Our StarsBirdman and The Theory of Everything in its kitty.


Star will also launch another new channel Star FX HD to compliment the SD feed of FX. The content of FX currently comprises MadmenSeinfeld and the animated series Family Guy. Other HD channels from the network include Star World Premiere HD, Star World HD and Star Movies HD in addition to eight other HD channels in various genres like sports and Hindi movie and GEC.


Multi Screen Media (MSM) is not far behind. With channels such as Pix, Pix HD and AXN, it is a strong player in the English movie and GEC space. On 6 April this year, the network sensed an opportunity by launching AXN HD to go along with the SD feed. For the man behind the launch, Pix and AXN EVP and business head Saurabh Yagnik the onset of digitisation and a strong audience base spending more time on special interest channels, made sense for the launch of the new feed. “While the shows will be same on the two channels, we will be tweaking some of the content for the HD feed. We could also have certain exclusive content for the HD feed in the future,” Yagnik had earlier told MSM also has two HD channels in the Hindi GEC and sports category.


On the other hand, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. (Zeel) is also looking at strengthening its HD portfolio. The network will soon launch a new HD channel in the English GEC space called Zee Cafe HD to compliment its SD feed. Besides this, Zeel has five other HD channels in its channel portfolio. The content on Zee Café currently comprises shows such as Two and a Half Men, Desperate Housewives and Secrets and Lies amongst others.


Times Network, which operates channels like Movies Now and Romedy Now is another mighty contender. Speaking to earlier, Times Network senior vice president and English entertainment cluster head Vivek Srivastava had said that its new channel, Movies Now+ was the HD version of the SD feed but it did have some differentiating content from the SD feed. It simulcast movies on both feeds such as The Wolf Of Wall Street, which is going to be showcased on 26 April 2015.


The increasing growth of premium ad free channels such as HBO Hits and HBO Defined too have resulted in aiding subscription revenues for the English entertainment genre. Strong and popular content such as Game of Thrones today is synonymous with the HBO network.


Growth of HD Channels in India


From the meagre three HD pay TV channels in 2010, the number has shot up to 34 in 2014, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) 2013-2014 annual report. The number jumped to 22, 31 and 33 for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. With impending launches of English movie and GEC channels this year, this number is only going to be on the rise going forward.


The DTH factor


Value Added Services (VAS) and HD channel penetration are strong revenue generators for Direct to Home (DTH) operators. Videocon d2h CEO Anil Khera was quoted in the FICCI-KPMG report for 2015 as saying, “The boom in the panel TV industry has been a key growth in HD channel viewership. The viewers are ready to pay a premium price for HD channels. With the right pricing and packaging for these channels, HD channels can achieve faster penetration.” 


As per the report, there are four million HD subscribers, which account for 10 per cent of all DTH subscribers, whereas 15 to 20 per cent of incremental subscribers in 2014 were HD subscribers. “HD adoption continues to drive ARPU growth for DTH players with the average ARPU of HD subscriber at 1.5 to 2X the ARPU of a non HD subscriber,” states the report.




Premium HD channels recorded a ten-fold top line growth with DTH accounting for over 95 per cent of the premium channel subscriber base according to the 2015 FICCI KPMG report. The success of HD viewing thus, is not just a mighty boon in for broadcasters alone, (where the Ad Ex share for the space in 2014 was at 4.6 per cent) but also for DTH operators. 


As panel TV sales figures were expected to touch approximately eight million units in 2014, of which 55 per cent was expected to have been HD panel TVs, the rise is only going to be vertical in the coming years. With the share of HD and 4K TV sales expected to contribute to over 80 per cent by 2019, broadcasters' key agenda will definitely be upping their HD channels offering. Moreover, the fact that DTH operators are more than happy to increase their HD bouquet, the growth story for HD viewing and consumption in India has only just begun.

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