DTH subscriber growth muted in CY-2017


BENGALURU: DAS, especially phases 3 and 4, was supposed to be a great growth opportunity for television direct-to-home (DTH) service providers. Has that been the case? Not if one were to go by data released by the Telecom Regulatory of India (TRAI) and three of the six private DTH players in India.

The status quo
At present, there are six private pay-TV players (five active in the true sense of the word) and one government free-TV player DD FreeDish. The five players are: Airtel Digital TV or Airtel DTH, Dish TV, Sun Direct, TataSkyand Videocon DTH–the sixth player being Reliance Digital TV or Big TV.

Reliance Big TV has been acquired by Pantel Technologies and Veecon Media. Normal operations have to recommence as yet. A number of Big TV customers were acquired by other players and the true status of its operations and current subscriber numbers are still unclear at the time of writing.

Please refer to the figure below for subscriber share of the six private players at the end of 30 September 2017 (Q2-18 or Q2-2108).


DTH subscriber acquisition seems to have petered down in calendar year 2017 (CY2017, 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2017) as compared with CY 2016. Please refer to the chart below for active subscribers addedas per TRAI data until 30 September 2017 (Q2-2018) and data reported by the three private players – Airtel DTH, Dish TV and Videocon d2h until 31 December 2017. It may be noted that these three players had almost 63 percent share of subscribers according to the above-mentioned Dish TV investor presentation.

The continuous blue curved line in the chart below represents the total number of net active subscribersaddedfor each quarter – this number has been obtained by deducting the number of active subscribers in a quarter from the number of subscribers in the previous quarter. The combined total number of the three subscribers has been obtained by addition of net subscribers added by each of the three players – Airtel DTH, Dish TV and Videocon d2h – as declared by them in their financial/other releases and presentations. Thesecombined subscriber additions are represented by the continuous maroon line in the figure. The broken grey line represents the percentage of the combined net subscriber additions by the three players of the total subscriber additions as per TRAI data.


The chart below indicates the subscriber base of the three players and all private DTH players as per quarterly data released by TRAI. TRAI data for the October-December 2017 quarter has not been released at the time of writing. Subscriber data for each of the three players mentioned below has been obtained from their respective financial releases and presentations. The numbers have been rounded off to the nearest lakh by the author.

As is obvious, Dish TV is the biggest player in the country in terms of subscribers followed by Airtel DTH and Videocon d2h in that order. It may be noted that Tata Sky subscriber base could be higher than Airtel’s subscriber base. Tata Sky data is not available in the public domain, and hence this cannot be verified.


Overall, the players are faced with declining monthly average revenue per user (ARPU). In absence of complete ARPU data, the author has taken the liberty to calculate ARPUs of each of the three players by using quarterly operating revenue/subscription revenue of the players and dividing it by the subscriber base at the end of that quarter and then calculating the ARPU per month. Similarly, the quarterly operating/subscription revenues of the three players have been added and then divided by the combined subscriber base of the three players at the end of that quarter and then the average monthly average ARPU has been arrived at. In each case calculated ARPU numbers have been rounded off to the nearest rupee.

The combined four quarter average monthly ARPU of the three players across four quarters of 2017 has declined by Rs 9 to Rs 183 from Rs 192 in CY-2016. Airtel DTH is the premium player – its four quarter average monthly ARPU in 2017 increased by Rs 2 to Rs 230 from Rs 228 in 2017. Dish TV is a value player, its average declined by Rs 18 in 2017 to Rs 143 from Rs 161 in 2016. Videocon d2h four quarter average monthly ARPU in 2017 declined by Rs 9 to Rs 186 from Rs 195 in 2017. It must be reiterated here that the ARPU numbers mentioned in this paper have been calculated by the author and may vary from the actual numbers. The numbers in the graph below are just indicative numbers.


Besides the six private pay DTH players, FreeDish is a major player in terms of subscribers with an estimated 2.2 crore as per the numbers available in the public domain. It must however be noted that an exact number for registered or active subscribers is not available even with DD, since this is a free DTH service. If and when the announced Dish TV Videocon d2h merger happens, the merged entity will probably be one of the largest DTH players in the world in terms of subscriber numbers.

According to an E&Y report titled ‘India’s Free TV’ released in July 2017, among the DTH operators in India, FreeDish has grown to become the largest with its estimated 2.2 crore subscribers which E&Y predicted could cross 4 crore over the next two to three years.

A number of reasons can be attributed to this dismal performance–two of the chief ones that have been touted over the recent past by most players in media and entertainment industry are demonetisation in November 2016 and the implementation of the new GST regime. Given that most of India faced a cash crunch for a few months post demonetisation, money spends for entertainment took the least priority for the common man.Subscriber acquisition seems to have picked up in the April-June 2017 quarter, only to be dampened in the July-September 2017 – the quarter in which the new GST regime was implemented. The glitches of the new GST are slowly being ironed out. In the absence of TRAI data for the October-December 2017 quarter, numbers reported by the three players seem to indicate that DTH subscriber acquisition should have improved. Despite this, it seems unlikely that the industry was able to surpass or even match subscriber growth of CY-2016.

Another important reason could be that DTH is considered a premium service – by all the stakeholders in carriage ecosystem with the resulting perception that procurement as well as monthly subscription will be premium and hence a deterrent for the consumer. While some players such as Dish TV have been making attempts to come up with packages that it perceives should attract the masses, but, results as per TRAI data seem to indicate otherwise. Yes, Dish TV is the largest private player in the country that has come up with different pricing models under different brands, whether unwittingly or not, most of the other players present themselves as premium players and seem to have done little in that direction.

Also Read :

DTH's year of consolidation

Recalibrating India’s DTH sector after Airtel DTH-Warburg Pincus deal

Veecon Media acquires Reliance Big TV

Latest Reads

DTH expands even as pay TV market saturates

Pay TV subscription revenue is expected to reach $7.6 billion by 2026 over $6.4 billion in 2021, stated Media Partners Asia in its latest report on India’s online video market, which also highlights the increasing market share of Direct-to-home (DTH) even as cable TV remains in structural decline.

DTH DTH Services
DTH operators write to TRAI over broadcasters offering pay channels on DD Free Dish

Mumbai: Direct-to-home (DTH) service providers including Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV have written to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) asking the telecom regulator to address the issue of broadcasters making their pay channels available on Prasar Bharati’s FTA platform DD Free...

DTH DTH Operator
Tata Sky’s new ad promotes aggressively priced Thalaiva pack

Mumbai: Content distribution platform and pay-TV platform Tata Sky has launched a new campaign for potential customers in Tamil Nadu. The narrative of the campaign "Vera Level" communicates the elevated entertainment options that are offered by a Tata Sky connection – highlighting the regional...

DTH DTH Operator
Yes Bank seeks removal of current directors of Dish TV

YES Bank, which holds 25.63 per cent stake in Dish TV India Ltd has sought the removal of the current directors and managing director of the direct-to-home service provider. The bank has recently issued a special notice asking the company to put its proposal to vote at Dish TV’s upcoming annual...

DTH DTH Operator
DTH operators report sharp drop in subscribers in Jan-March: TRAI

Mumbai: The total number of active DTH subscribers declined to 69.57 million at the end of March 2021 from 70.99 million at the end of December 2020, as per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). This is in addition to the subscribers of DD Free Dish (DTH service of Doordarshan). The...

DTH DTH Operator
Tata Sky unveils its first batch of Make-in-India set-top boxes

DTH operator Tata Sky on Thursday unveiled its first batch of Made in India- set-top boxes which have been manufactured in partnership with Technicolor Connected Home and Flextronics.

DTH DTH Services
Prasar Bharati concludes 55th e-auction; allots two MPEG-4 slots

Mumbai: Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati has allotted two vacant MPEG-4 slots for its DD Free Dish DTH platform at the end of the 55th e-auction, held on 23 August. The successful bids went to the Hindi news and current affairs channels Vertent Samachar Plus 24X7 and FM News. The channels will be...

DTH DTH Operator
Prasar Bharati invites bids for vacant MPEG-4 slots in 55th e-auction

Prasar Bharati has invited applications for the allotment of vacant MPEG-4 slots of DD Free Dish DTH platform for the period from 1 September 2021 to 31 March 2022 through the 55th e-auction. The e-auction process will be tentatively held on the afternoon of 23 August.

DTH DTH Services
Prasar Bharati concludes 54th e-auction; adds five new MPEG-2 slots

Mumbai: Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati has added five new MPEG-2 slots for its DD Free Dish DTH platform at the end of the 54th e-auction. Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) Ishara TV, teleshopping channel Naaptol, music channel Showbox, Marathi channel Sun Marathi, and Bengali channel...

DTH DTH Operator

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories

* indicates required