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Fastway promoter Gurdeep Singh bats for voluntary digitisation ahead of analogue cable sunset date

HISAR: Even though the government has extended the deadline for the third and fourth phases of digitisation, Fastway transmissions promoter and managing director Gurdeep Singh believes that multi-system-operators (MSOs) should continue seeding set-top boxes (STBs) and go for voluntary digitisation, in order to increase the average revenue per user (ARPU).

Addressing local cable operators, independent MSOs and broadcast industry executives at the Hisar leg of GroundPost, a digital summit organised by TelevisionPost.com, Singh emphasised the need for speeding up the process of digitisation.

“We need to speed up the process of digitisation as this will help us to increase revenues quickly. While there is time for the deadline for Phases III and IV, voluntary digitisation will help the operators to set up and stabilise their network in 12 to 18 months, and recover the price of the STBs on time,” he said.

gurdeep-coverOn a cautionary note, he added that operators need to concentrate on the quality of service as well. “You have to provide good quality of service to the customer. Only then will he prefer you to DTH.”

Talking about how voluntary digitisation has helped Fastway in Punjab, Singh said that it stopped the rise of DTH in the region. “We have got big benefits there. Every month we started achieving 2–2.5 per cent growth. Yearly growth from ground is 18–20 per cent. Our local channels are a big hit. We have 94 channels and services giving local content, events, sports, live feed from Gurudwaras, temples, etc.”

Singh added that customers are paying higher monthly fee for better services. “There is no problem in Punjab. Everyone is earning good as our ARPU there is Rs 260. We are looking to increase the ARPU gradually and the customer is willing to pay for better quality services,” Singh added.

He said that the company has acquired direct points from some operators who wanted to exit the business.

Talking about the investment in technology, Singh said that Fastway only uses Cisco boxes. “We experimented with the cheaper boxes initially, but 10–12 per cent of those had to be returned due to faults. And customers also were not happy. So we decided to go for expensive but better technology. We have also connected the whole network with 10,000 km of underground fibre. We are ready not only for Phase III, but Phase IV also.”

With regard to entering Haryana, Singh said that he is looking at a good business model whereby all three parties—broadcasters, MSO and LCOs—will make good money. “We will have to work together. In Punjab, Fastway, Hathway [Cable & Datacom] and Siti Cable are working together. I don’t see any reason why Haryana will have any problem with this.”

gurdeep-insideFastway has seeded 2.5 million STBs in Punjab, connected 34 cities in Haryana by fibre and is ready to enter the market, he claimed.

In his presentation on the benefits of digitisation for cable TV operators, Fastway’s Siddhartha Chaturvedi told the gathering about how cable can offer up to 1,000 channels, which their biggest competitors, DTH, cannot do.

“With the current analogue audio and video quality, it is quite difficult to fight with DTH, but we can use digital cable and STBs to provide better sound and quality, thus ensuring long-term customer retention,” he explained.

Talking about addressability, he said that thanks to STBs, cable can also become addressable and viewers can be given the choice of selecting the channels they want to see and, thus, DTH won’t have any upper hand.

When it comes to negotiating with a broadcaster, the real bone of contention is the total number of connections. “With STBs, however, the exact number of active subscribers will be known. So the negotiations with the broadcasters can become easier based on transparent numbers,” he said.

He added that digitisation will eventually aid in the growth of revenue as the quality of services will enhance. Revenue will start flowing from second- and third-TV homes. Value-added services could add to additional revenue.

According to Chaturvedi, local or signature channels can prove to be a big differentiator as DTH cannot match them.

Talking about challenges, he said that the infrastructure needs massive improvement, which will necessitate big investments. “We have to look carefully for the quality also, which will need higher investments.”

Drawing attention to the fights between MSOs and LCOs, he said, “We need to build trust between MSOs and LCOs, or else DTH will take away cable TV customers.”

Regarding the revenue share structure and increasing ARPU, he added that with better services like HD channels and VAS, the ARPU will gradually go up as per the market conditions.

Stressing the need for professionalism, he said that proper training needs to be imparted to the operators who actually collect the money from the subscribers.