Uptake of free DTH has come down since major broadcasters left: Punit Goenka

Goenka is positive that Zee-Sony merger is on track to complete in eight to nine months.

Mumbai: The uptake of free direct-to-home services has come down since the major broadcaster networks collectively left the platform on 1 April, stated Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited managing director and chief executive officer Punit Goenka during an earnings call.

The company reported its fourth quarter and yearly results for the financial year ended 31 March. Goenka said, “Cord-cutting has slowed down now that GECs (general entertainment channels) have come out of the Free Dish platform. So far, the decline in subscription revenues has been because we were losing subscribers. The good thing is we’re not losing subscribers to digital but rather subscribers are migrating from pay linear to free linear TV.”

On merger with Sony Pictures

Goenka also shared an update on the merger process between Zee and Sony Pictures Networks India. The two companies had signed a definitive agreement in December 2021 and submitted key documents with the stock exchanges for the necessary approval. Analysts queried Goenka whether the timeline for completion of the merger would remain at eight to nine months as the company was still awaiting approval from the exchanges.

“My speculation is that because this is a large merger there have been a significant number of queries by the stock exchanges that we have been answering. It has been two weeks or ten days since we last got any query from the exchange and I am still positive towards the eight to nine months timeline,” replied Goenka.

Zee is expected to be one of the major contenders for the Indian Premier League (IPL) media rights auction that is set to begin on 12 June. With the merger process still underway, analysts asked Goenka whether Zee was in a position to bid for the media rights without the capital infusion of $1.57 billion (~Rs 12,000 crore) from Sony.

“We have a healthy balance sheet and we can participate (in the IPL media rights) on our own,” said Goenka. He also noted that the TV and digital rights package being sold separately “doesn’t preclude us from bidding for either part of all of the rights packages being sold.”

Goenka stated that the company is still evaluating its strategy concerning IPL media rights.

Zee expects its advertising revenues to face pressure in the coming quarter due to the inflationary situation that has impacted FMCG advertisers who account for up to 53 per cent of ad spend on the network.

The company also expects to see a short-term impact on ad revenues after pulling its GECs from the Free Dish platform. “This will be a transitional impact and we expect to recover as intended benefits accrue on the pay side of the business,” remarked Zeel chief financial officer Rohit Gupta.

He added, “In FY23 from a quarter-on-quarter progression perspective we expect the margins to improve as we progress through the year.

The first quarter will have the most immediate impact in terms of inflationary dynamics. FTA drop, accelerated investments and seasonal expenses such as increments etc., will have an impact on revenues. As revenues scale up in subsequent quarters, we expect margins to start inching up in the later part of the year.”

The embargo on NTO (New Tariff Order) 2.0 continues to impact the broadcast industry in terms of subscription revenues. However, the management of Zee expects to see a positive quantum in terms of revenue growth for FY23 now that the pandemic has subsided.

Zee reiterated its commitment to scale investments in content, technology and product. The company is particularly increasing investments on OTT content with more regional content in the pipeline and partnering with global studios, independent creators and premium content production houses. Zee5 saw 31 per cent growth in revenues for FY22 and its global monthly active users (MAUs) stood at 104.8 million. Average watch time on the platform increased to 214 minutes.

Following the success of "Kashmir Files" that grossed Rs 200 crore in the box office, Zee Studios is gearing up to release 20-25 movies this year.

On the linear TV side, the company plans to increase investments in its Hindi, Marathi and Tamil portfolio of channels to grow market share.

Linear TV market

Zee’s linear TV market share declined to 17.1 per cent in Q4 2022. Zee has also considerably brought down its debt to Dish TV India from Rs 5.8 billion in March 2020 to Rs 2.4 billion in March 2022.

The company reported operating revenue of Rs 8189.3 crore up by 14.1 per cent year-on-year. Its profit after tax increased by 31.7 per cent and stood at Rs 964.4 crore. Advertising revenue stood at Rs 4396.5 crore in FY22 up by 18 per cent year-on-year. Subscription revenue remained stable at Rs 3246.6 crore. The company’s expenditure for the year came up to Rs 6467.3 crore out of which operating expenses stood at Rs 4044.9 crore. The company’s programming and technology costs increased year-on-year driven by higher theatrical revenue, continued investments in Zee5 and new launches across the market.

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