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2020: An eventful year for DTH

The industry has started innovating in a big way.

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KOLKATA: Over the past year all the direct-to-home (DTH) operators in India have embraced the change in the ecosystem. The industry has started reinventing its offerings in a big way to combat the threat posed by OTT players. Throughout 2020, leading DTH operators struck partnerships with OTTs big and small, expanded value-added service portfolio, rolled out several offers to keep consumers hooked.

The sector currently has 70.58 million subscribers as of 30 June 2020, according to the latest data shared by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). While the industry lost two million subscribers in 2019, it has added around six lakh subscribers in the first half of the year. In addition to that, a Crisil report has projected four-six per cent revenue growth for FY21 reaching Rs 22,000 crore.

After the first quarter, the progress of the industry has been murkier. Although traditional TV consumption surged due to Covid2019, with some benefit for distribution platforms, lack of fresh content, migration post-lockdown, closure of commercial establishments led to churn later. Many consumers also degraded their subscription packages due to the absence of new episodes of daily soaps and live sports.  

“DTH subscribers surged initially in lockdown but over time consumers started optimising channel subscriptions due to limited fresh content. Subscribers expected to increase by six to seven per cent as fresh content has returned to TV and cable TV subscribers move to DTH,” a CII-BCG report said. According to industry estimates, the operators’ consumer acquisition started coming back to normal since late July.

Expanding content portfolio to retain, acquire subscribers:

As a response to the unprecedented crisis, the DTH companies not only took steps like incentive bundles, new free platform services, but kept innovating. Hybrid set top boxes turned out to the buzzword for DTH sector this year as all the players have upped their efforts in this segment. Then the pandemic gave a pronounced nudge to the demand for hybrid boxes. Market leader Tata Sky aggressively promoted its new box Tata Sky Binge+ throughout the year. The company has even brought down the price to Rs 2,999 from Rs 5,999 – at a time when fixed broadband and smart TV segment are seeing rapid growth in India.

Its rival Airtel has also been pushing cross-platform content strategy since the launch of Airtel Xstream in late 2019. The surge in video consumption has boosted its uptake massively, leading to 50 per cent viewership increase in the early part of lockdown. On the other hand, Dish TV is going big not only on Android box connected devices Dish SMRT Hub and d2h Stream, but also its OTT platform Watcho for Dish TV and d2h users. Watcho crossed five million subscribers during the lockdown. However, the player causing major disruption is Reliance’s Jio TV+ for JioFiber set-top box users. Along with aggregating content from 12 leading OTT players, it offers a single sign-in support.

Hybrid set-top boxes were introduced a few years ago but did not get much traction. With consumption going up both on linear TV and OTT, the demand for these devices has been on the upswing. But the demand is till now limited to the top 15 cities, the top tier of the market.

In 2020, DTH operators focused on further bolstering their value added services. One of the major areas has been educational content, perhaps in reaction to classes being conducted online in India. Apart from that, fitness services and cinematic experiences were also expanded by these players, especially Dish TV and Tata Sky.

Manufacturing moves to India:

To streamline set top box manufacturing and delivery, DTH players have decided to shift a significant portion to the country. Tata Sky partnered with Technicolor to develop STBs for the Indian market that will be manufactured and distributed locally. Dish TV, too, intends to shift its production to India by the first quarter of 2021. Additionally, it plans to start manufacturing major components of the STB as well as its accessories in India. Both players claimed that it would push the government’s Make in India vision. For long, local STB manufacturers have complained that Chinese companies have taken away their business. The move has shone a ray of optimism for them.

Regulations impacting the sector:

As the industry woke up to the amended new tariff order (NTO 2.0) at the beginning of 2020, the DTH players had to adjust network capacity fee, multi-TV connection charges. During the Covid2019 crisis, TRAI recommended that all DTH and cable STBs provided to customers must support interoperability and urged the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) to make it mandatory by introducing the requisite provisions. In response to TRAI’s consultation paper, industry leaders such as TataSky, Dish and Reliance Jio opposed it. The viability of the move was questioned and stakeholders warned that it would be a very high-cost operation.

The cloud over license fee lifts:

But the year has ended on a positive note, with the MIB issuing a much-awaited clarification on the matter of licence fee. DTH license will be issued for 20 years and license fee will be collected quarterly. Further, the period of license may be renewed by 10 years at a time. The annual fee has been revised from 10 per cent of GR to eight per cent of AGR. Sharing of infrastructure between DTH operators and 100 per cent FDI have also been approved by the cabinet, among other amendments. 

The industry believes clarity over license fee will bring certainty in terms of planning and investment. In a very recent communication, the MIB has stated that the existing licensees are required to clear pending dues before applying afresh for a license to provide DTH services,.

DD Free Dish’s revival:

Prasar Barati-run free-to-air DTH platform DD Free Dish also had its moments this past year. All the four major broadcasters that had pulled out of DD Free Dish in 2019 after the new tariff order was implemented returned to the platform in 2020. Star Utsav, Sony Pal, Zee Anmol, Colors Rishtey and Zee Anmol Cinema had successfully bid on the 45th e-auction for placement. Many new channels have come on board, including three movie channels in the recent auction.

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