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Content deal with Star helped Hathway structure new packaging to lift ARPU

MUMBAI: The content deal with Star India has helped Hathway Cable & Datacom to structure a higher-priced base pack for its digital cable TV subscribers, a top executive of the company said.

According to the agreement, Hathway Cable & Datacom will carry two of Star India’s sports channels on its base pack. Migrating from the reference interconnection offer (RIO) model, the fixed-fee contract between Star India and the multi-system operator (MSO) runs through to next December.

Jagdish-Kumar-inside“We have introduced a two-package plan for our digital subscribers at a higher price point. Our content deal with Star has helped us introduce this. Because of RIO, our base pack was lighter. We have moved from an RIO to a fixed-fee deal with Star. They want two of their sports channels to be part of the base pack,” said Hathway Cable & Datacom managing director and CEO Jagdish Kumar.

Hathway has done away with the Rs 220 base pack. The ‘Prime’ package is priced in the range of Rs 265–330 a month, depending on the region. The ‘Royal’ pack, which will include channels from the first tier and have more in the plate, is priced in the range of Rs 375–425 a month.

  • Prime – (MRP Rs 330) – 198 channels+1 free Regional pack
  • Royal – (MRP Rs 425) – Prime+54 channels+1 free Regional pack
  • Royal HD – (MRP Rs 550) – Royal+ 27 HD channels+1 free Regional pack
    * Packs for Western region
    * All Marathi regional channels included in base pack

For western India, including Mumbai, the first tier pack of channels are priced at Rs 330 per month and the second at Rs 425. This is beside the basic tier pack of channels, priced at Rs 160 per month, as mandated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

“We have strengthened the base pack to get a higher price. There are some sports channels. We have pushed the English-language entertainment channels to the second tier,” Kumar said.

Wasn’t the RIO model supposed to pave the way for MSOs to introduce packaging?

“Star’s RIO model did help us create some packaging on the ground. Still there were some issues. It did not also work too well with the broadcaster,” Kumar said.

Hathway believes that the new package pricing will help lift its average revenue per user (ARPU) and that local cable operators (LCOs) will earn more. While the base pack will have more punch and power, the English entertainment channels are pushed to the second tier.

Hathway’s LCOs, however, have mixed feelings. “It will be difficult for us to implement an effective hike from customers. Competitors have lower base packs. We should have more than two packs,” an LCO said, on the condition of anonymity.

The ‘Prime’ pack will consist of mass Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs), Hindi movie channels and other genre channels. Star Sports 2, Star Sports 3 and Ten Sports also form part of the pack. The sports channels of Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India will be in the upper package.

MK-Anand1‘Prime’ pack subscribers will be able to watch Hindi news channels and English news channels such as Times Now, India Today, NDTV 24×7 and CNN IBN. But English business news channels like CNBC-TV18 and ET Now are in the second-tier pack.

“We expect the MSOs to be mindful of what we call pack parity. That ET Now and Movies Now are in the higher pack is fine as long as their competitor channels are also in the same pack. I don’t think Rs 425 per month is high,” said Times Network MD and CEO MK Anand.

The ‘Royal HD’ pack will offer 27 high-definition channels and are being priced in the range of Rs 525–Rs 550 a month. The plan is to ramp up the HD offering to 50 channels.

The ‘Royal’ pack will have English GECs and movies. Star Sports 1, Star Sports 4, Ten Cricket and Ten Action will be part of the package. SPN’s sports channels, Sony ESPN and Sony Six, are also included in this tier.

Hathway has created several genre add-on packs. They are mainly for the ‘Prime’ pack customers.

Genre Add Ons – MRP (Rs Inc. Taxes)

  • Sports – Rs 50
  • Kids – Rs 50
  • Infotainment – Rs 50
  • English Movies – Rs 50
  • English & Business News – Rs 50
  • English Entertainment & Music – Rs 50
  • HD – Rs 152

The ‘Sports’ add-on pack includes Star Sports 1, Star Sports 4, Sony Six, Sony ESPN, Ten Cricket, Ten Action, Neo Prime and Neo Sports.

In the ‘English Movies’ add-on pack, the channels are Movies Now, Romedy Now, Sony Pix, Star Movies, Star Movies Action, HBO, WB and ZStudio.

Subscribers will in effect be given two regional packs at no additional cost. The base pack will consist of the regional-language channels of the state. Customers can choose another free regional pack.

Regional Add Ons – MRP (Rs Inc. Taxes)

  • Hindi+Bhojpuri – Rs 50
  • Gujarati+Rajasthani – Rs 50
  • Bangla+Oriya – Rs 50
  • Tamil – Rs 50
  • Telugu – Rs 50
  • Kannada – Rs 50
  • Malayalam – Rs 50

How impressed is TV18 Broadcast with the new packaging, particularly when its flagship news channel CNBC-TV18 is in the upper tier? “It is a good step forward. There would have been an issue if a competing channel like ET Now were on the base pack. The rationale of the pricing at Rs 425 a month can be subjective. We will have to wait and see how it pans out,” said a senior TV18 executive.

Will the new packaging have a skew towards extracting carriage fees? “That does not seem to be the case as the genre channels are placed in the same tier, barring perhaps sports. The channels aimed at juniors like Disney Junior and Nick Jr are put in the upper tier while Pogo and Nick are in the base pack,” a media analyst said.

Anand expects carriage to fall as a result. “The impact on net of carriage cost and subscription revenue should be positive for broadcasters after this,” he said.

Doesn’t a monthly cable TV bill of Rs 425 sound a bit on the higher side? “The base pack offers a lot of value. For customers who want premium channels, Rs 425 is not high. We are fine even if we have an 80% penetration for our base pack and 20% for our upper pack,” said Kumar.

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