Cable TV

DEN to launch 4k, 'open' STBs, give a leg-up to HD, b'band services

NEW DELHI: The Sameer Manchanda-promoted DEN Networks Ltd is planning to launch feature-rich 4k and `open’ set-top-boxes in the near future, apart from continuing to push its HD STBs. The reason: enrich consumer experience and keep pace with evolving global trends, which have started reflecting in a price-sensitive Indian market too.

As digitisation of Indian cable TV services rolls on with the final analog sunset date of 31 March 2017 not far off, DEN is also aiming to push its broadband service in approximately 20 more towns and cities over an year.

Speaking to Indiantelevision.com, DEN CEO SN Sharma said, “We do plan to launch 4k boxes over the next six months and are also working on an ‘open’ box to keep pace with evolving technologies and global trends very much visible in markets like the US and Europe. Such boxes would be rich in features like digital video recorder, in-built apps and go a long way in changing consumer experience.”

Would the strategy to launch 4k and feature-rich boxes work in a price sensitive market like India? While admitting limitations to such boxes in terms of gaining mass popularity, especially as supply of 4K programming is still scarce, Sharma added, “As consumer behaviour has changed and is still changing, we feel there would be a sizable number of buyers for high-end boxes, including HD, if properly marketed to consumers.”

Further explaining the reason behind this renewed push for HD and other consumer-enriching boxes, though comparatively costlier than the present ones, he said DEN is attempting to “keep pace” with DTH services, which had an advantage of starting off as a digital service unlike analog cable trying to convert to digital and other technologies like OTT.

“We aim to seed in the market at least one million HD boxes over the next 12 months,” Sharma elaborated, adding, “I was surprised to get feedbacks from consumers and partner LCOs after touring small towns. There’s a fairly good demand for HD boxes in such places too. And, sitting in metros, we used to think consumers in small places of India would not be able to afford HD boxes, which are certainly costlier than the normal boxes given to them earlier. Our HD initiative has started.”

According to figures available with the government and some investors, DEN has deployed 200,000 boxes in digitisation’s phase 3 and 4 with digital subscribers of the company contributing Rs. 10.2 crore or Rs 102 million in Q3 of FY 2016-17 to the overall quarterly revenue kitty. Overall subscriber base is 10+ million.

The vigour with which cable services, especially digital, are being pushed is not without reason too. Apart from evolving with times, financial results too have shown concentration on the company’s core business (cable TV services) yields dividends. For example, amongst the few other highlights of FY17Q3, cable subscriptions registered a strong growth of 15 per cent quarter-on-quarter. Not only digital addressable system (DAS) phase 1 EBITDA stood at 30+ per cent, DAS phase 3’s monetisation was Rs. 65 (inclusive of taxes) as on December ’16.
Expanding cable business also throws up other options at revenue generation. Sharma’s remit from the company board and investors is also to focus on increasing the broadband business of DEN bringing hi-speed broadband network to consumers’ homes, which is perfectly in line with PM Modi’s vision of `Digital India’.

DEN plans to launch its broadband services in 15 to 20 new towns over the next six to nine months. And the confidence to give this segment of the business a leg up has come from the fact that broadband EBITDA got even for Q3 FY’17 despite the freebie blitz unveiled by Reliance Jio and other telcos during that time.

According to data available, DEN added 20k broadband subscribers in Q3 FY’17 with the total subscriber base being 159,000; the figure for homes-passed standing at 864,000. While the year-on-year growth for broadband business was 82 per cent as on Q3, the total revenue and ARPU for the quarter were Rs 210 million and Rs 752, respectively.

Keep tuned in for Sharma’s full-length interview coming soon on Indiantelevision.com where he speaks on an array of subjects from reasons behind renewed focus on core business of the company, shedding loss-making investments, the way Indian landscape has changed with digitisation, DEN’s insistence on cable subscription collections, getting future-ready to whether M&A is an option to fuel company’s growth.

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