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Airtel bullish on DTH business; plans to revamp its OTT platform

MUMBAI: Telecom operator Bharti Airtel has said it will focus on providing TV services through its direct to home (DTH) platform Airtel Digital TV as well as on mobile through over the top (OTT) app Airtel TV.

The company also aims to accelerate the adoption of high definition (HD) set top boxes (STBs) on its DTH platform. HD subscribers now comprise more than a third of Airtel Digital TV’s subscriber base.

Airtel is also planning to revamp its OTT platform Airtel TV, which provides 130 live TV channels and on-demand content. The OTT app has seen 20 million downloads so far.

Talking to analysts recently, Bharti Airtel MD and CEO India Gopal Vittal said that the company continues to evaluate options for its DTH business. “And on DTH, I would just say that we continue to evaluate options,” Vittal said.

The reply was in response to a question whether the company is exploring merging its DTH business with that of Tata Sky, which is jointly owned by Tata Group and 21st Century Fox.

“So both TV on the mobile as well as TV through DTH will continue to be focus areas. Now whether we sell down a stake or do not sell a stake, I mean these are speculative questions which we will let you know when we have something on the table,” he added.

Talking about the DTH business, Vittal said that the business has still some to grow due to unfinished digitisation in Phase IV areas of digital addressable system (DAS).

“I mean our DTH business as a standalone business is doing well. We continue to drive strong growth. There are a lot of opportunities still left because of digitisation that is still on the anvil and we will use all of those triggers to continue to drive growth,” he stated.

He also said that the telco has a very aggressive strategy for providing TV content on mobile. As part of that strategy, Airtel TV app is being revamped to enhance the user experience.

Airtel is bringing a convergence of its DTH and mobile platforms through its recently launched Android STBs, which supports OTT apps like Airtel TV in addition to linear TV channels.

“The second part is on the mobile side. We have a TV strategy, which is our Airtel TV, which we have tried to now converge along with the DTH offer, which is the Android box that we launched. As far as the Airtel TV is concerned the experience is still not where we would like it to be,” Vittal noted.

He also asserted that the revamp of Airtel TV app will make it one of the top apps in the country. “A big revamp of the app is underway and will happen very soon, and that should catapult into one of the top apps in the country,” he said.

Vittal also pointed out that the adoption of digital services is another key objective of the company. He also noted that there is a strong role for a customer-oriented company like Airtel to aggregate content and make it easy and affordable for customers to access it online in a seamless manner.

“Airtel’s TV app, which offers over 130 live TV channels and OTT content, has already registered close to 20mn app downloads. Our Wynk Music app continues to retain its pole position in India, with approx. 70mn customers as of September 2017,” he revealed.

Another strategic pillar of the company’s growth is quad-play. Accelerating home broadband via both expansion and speed upgrades as well as driving HD on our DTH platform are thus our key focus areas, Vittal said.

V-fiber technology, which provides data speeds of over 40 Mbps, has been largely enabled across our fixed line network, he added further.

For the quarter ended 30 September, Airtel Digital TV had added only 207,000 customers at a net level compared to 499,000 in the trailing quarter. The DTH operator’s total digital TV subscriber base increased 1.6% to 13.52 million.

The average revenue per user (ARPU) increased 1.9% over the previous quarter to Rs 233 while the monthly churn stood at 1.4%.

Airtel Digital TV’s EBITDA for the quarter was Rs 936.9 crore while EBITDA was at Rs 351.7 crore.