Cable TV

APOS 2020: Why Indian pay TV still holds a lot of potential

Tata Sky’s Harit Nagpal and Indiacast’s Anuj Gandhi say television has barely been penetrated yet

KOLKATA: Even as the doomsayers have been predicting impending doom for India’s television business and tomtomming the growth of streaming services, Tata Sky CEO Harit Nagpal and IndiaCast Media Distribution Group CEO Anuj Gandhi believe that there’s tremendous scope to grow pay-TV in India. Taking part in a roundtable as part of Media Partners Asia’s virtual APOS 2020, both said television has barely been penetrated yet. 

Tata Sky’s Harit Nagpal - who's running, arguably, one of India's most respected DTH platforms - highlighted that there is a distribution game which needs to be played well. Nagpal mentioned two ways that the business can get a growth impetus: one is reaching out to the un-penetrated households and secondly selling more to existing consumers.

He backed his statement with facts. According to Nagpal, 100 million homes in India are TV-less, and would go on to buy one eventually. Moreover, 35 million TV watchers have subscribed to free to air service DD Freedish. According to him, the Indian consumers are gradually moving from no TV to FTA to pay-TV, acknowledging that those in the higher end of pay-TV spectrum in urban areas are migrating to OTT and broadband. While he acknowledged the movement to OTT, he also mentioned that it is slower compared to the growth of linear TV and it will continue for a while.

“Households without a TV have not bought one so far, and those that bought one have moved to FTA because they could not afford the Rs 300 plan which the platforms charge,” says Nagpal.

Hence, he added that expecting them to pay Rs 1000 for bandwidth to watch Rs 300 worth of content is a bit much. He stated that they would start with linear TV paying only for content while they may migrate to new media in the next decades. 

“In the last two years, we have seen a huge surge in small screen viewing of content essentially because data cost was abysmally low. As the data prices find their right level, which is what it should be, I guess the projections we all are making will level up,” he stated.

Indiacast’s Gandhi agreed with Nagpal’s view on the distribution game and the growth opportunity. He pointed out while pay TV’s potential has been spoken about a lot, the industry has barely made any change in the past six-seven years. 

The silver-lining is that fictitious numbers of cable subscribers were floating up in the market before the NTO while after its implementation the industry now agrees on the number of 120-130 million paying subs. According to Gandhi, the growth opportunity is low-ARPU market which is partly either on DD or getting pirated content needs to be converted. This ongoing process cannot be taken away by streaming services.

Moreover, Gandhi stated that the pandemic has made the industry realise that overly depending on advertising revenue is a troubling trend. Until now, content players have not focused on subscription revenue by not creating cohorts or not helping the platforms to plan for a better ARPU or upselling. Hence, while there are opportunities in the pay-TV business: one has to build a robust subscription model by tweaking, changing, remodelling the existing one.

The statistic of 500 million smartphone users has been touted enough but Gandhi noted that all of them may not have four-inch plus screens or enough memory to have more than seven-eight apps on their devices. Hence, he opined that despite the fact that a part of the high-end consumers have started subscribing to streaming services – some of them live -  using connected TVs and devices, linear TV cannot be replaced for most of the consumers. 

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