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The highs and lows of DTH in 2014

MUMBAI: 2014 was a busy year for direct-to-home (DTH) operators. When not fighting among themselves over market share, they were engaged in a battle on all other fronts, whether it was the government or the broadcasters or cable TV platforms.

The year started with the fight between Dish TV and IndiaCast UTV as the DTH operator took the television channels of TV18 Broadcast and Disney India on RIO [Reference Interconnect Offer] basis.

Apart from these usual scuffles, the year saw the DTH players pushing the envelope as far as gaining market share and improving consumer experience were concerned.

Essel Group-promoted Dish TV led the DTH onslaught by launching a sub-brand Zing to take on cable TV in Phases III and IV of digital addressable system (DAS). That the DAS deadline got revised under the new government is a different matter, but the launch of a sub-brand was an innovation. Zing was launched in West Bengal, Tripura, Odisha, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

In line with its proposition of quality service to its customers, Tata Sky became the first Indian DTH operator to order 4K Ultra HD STBs from Technicolor. Not to be left behind, Videocon d2h also went and unveiled the 4k STBs ahead of Tata Sky. Both operators now plan to roll out UHD services in early 2015. While the intent is laudable, the DTH operators will find the going tough due to challenges over lack of availability of UHD content.

The year also saw Videocon d2h reviving its Rs 7 billion initial public offering (IPO) plans. It successfully got market regulator SEBI’s nod. Videocon d2h is now looking to hit the market in February. During the year the company also achieved the landmark of crossing the gross subscriber base of 10 million.

Talking of subscriber base, sector regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) performance indicator report brought out the fact that challenges are still galore for DTH operators. According to the report, India’s DTH sector has 29.33 million inactive subscribers out of a registered subscriber base of 67.57 million.

On the regulatory front, the TRAI’s recommendations on the new DTH Guidelines have been music to the ears of the DTH players. Not only did the regulator propose favourable recommendations like reducing licence fee to 8 per cent Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) and increasing licence period to 20 years, but it also suggested removing cross-media restriction to allow vertical integration since the DTH industry is in dire need of investment.

TRAI has freed the broadcast sector cap of 20 per cent equity in a DTH company, implying that Star can up its stake in Tata Sky. The government allows 74 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in DTH.

However, the TRAI has recommended that the broadcaster can control only one distribution platform operator (DPO). In its new “DTH Licensing Regime”, the authority has recommended that an entity that controls a vertically integrated DPO or the vertically integrated DPO itself shall not be allowed to “control” any other DPO of other category.

TRAI has allowed an MSO and a Headend-in-the-sky (HITS) operator to combine, but DTH is treated as another category. This in effect means that the Essel Group will have to unload either Dish TV (DTH) or Siti Cable (MSO) and Sun Group will have to let go either SCV (MSO) or Sun Direct.

Even as capacity issues due to unavailability of transponders continued to haunt the industry, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came out with an explosive report blaming the Department of Space (DoS) for making a bungling job of providing transponders to the DTH operators.

The report put DoS in the dock by pointing out that undue favours were granted to Tata Sky. These range from jumping of queue in allocation of satellite capacity to giving the exclusive right of first refusal.

As per CAG, Tata Sky was fifth in the order of preference for allocation of satellite capacity. However, it was granted precedence over Doordarshan (which operates a subscription-free DTH service) and allocated capacity on INSAT 4A, which was launched earlier in December 2005. DD, which was first in the precedence list, was allocated capacity on INSAT 4B, which was launched later in January 2007.

The report further alleged that Tata Sky’s refusal to swap the 12 Ku-band transponders of INSAT 4A with those of GSAT 10 had triggered a revenue loss to the tune of Rs 82.80 crore (Rs 828 million) to the public exchequer.

It attacked DoS for reducing the price of Ku-band transponders for Sun Direct and thus triggering a loss of Rs 3.4 crore (Rs 34.09 million).

The CAG also alleged that the non-revision of prices for Ku-band transponder lease agreements for INSAT systems with DTH service providers had resulted in a loss of Rs 36.17 crore (Rs 361.7 million) to the DoS.

The year saw the government throwing a Rs 20.7-billion licence fee googly at DTH operators. The demand was challenged by the DTH operators in the TDSAT, which directed the government not to take any coercive action till the matter is pending.

Dish TV CY 13-14Aitel Digital CY13-14
Dish TV got a DTH licence from the Sri Lanka government and is planning to launch operations in the island nation this fiscal.

Among other highlights, the government-funded free-to-air DTH service Freedish completed 10 years of operation. Currently, Freedish is planning to add more channels and switching to MPEG-4 boxes.

Here is a list of events that impacted the DTH industry:

  • On 1 January, Dish TV takes the 22 IndiaCast UTV-distributed channels on RIO basis.
  • TRAI allows vertical integration between a DTH and a broadcaster. It recommends removal of the broadcast sector cap of 20 per cent equity in a DTH company.
  • In its new “DTH Licensing Regime”, TRAI recommends that the broadcaster can control only one DPO.
  • An entity that controls a vertically integrated DPO or the vertically integrated DPO itself shall not be allowed to “control” any other DPO of other category.
  • TRAI proposes DTH licence fee at 8 per cent AGR; moots 20-year licence period.
  • Videocon d2h touches 10-million gross subscriber base within five years of launch.
  • Dish TV launches sub-brand Zing to target regional markets and mop up price-sensitive subscribers in Phases III and IV of digitisation; launches in West Bengal with 26 Bengali channels.
  • Government takes the DTH operators by surprise; asks them to cough up Rs 20.7 billion as licence fee dues even as the matter is sub judice.
  • DTH operators move TDSAT against the government’s Rs 20.7 billion licence fee demand; tribunal restrains government from taking coercive action till matter is pending.
  • Dish TV gets DTH licence to operate in Sri Lanka; eyes FY15 launch.
  • After West Bengal, Dish TV launches Zing in Odisha, Tripura, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • Sun Direct earmarks Rs 75 crore (Rs 750 million) for hiring Ku-band transponders from Malaysian communications satellite company Measat.
  • Wait gets longer for Sun Direct to ramp up channel capacity due to delay in the launch of Measat-3b satellite.
  • Videocon d2h plans February 2015 IPO; eyes Rs 700 crore (Rs 7 billion) from IPO by diluting 15 per cent stake.
  • Technicolor commemorates 10th year of partnership with Tata Sky with the delivery of the 11-millionth Technicolor STB.
  • Dish TV decides to move its STB business to wholly-owned subsidiary Xingmedia Distribution.
  • Dish TV mulls entering STB manufacturing business.
  • Airtel and Samsung launch India’s first integrated digital TV without an external STB to ensure minimal signal loss and maximum audio and video clarity.
  • CAG points out that DoS has granted under favours to Tata Sky.
  • Tata Sky’s refusal to swap the 12 Ku-band transponders of INSAT 4A with those of GSAT 10 has triggered a revenue loss to the tune of Rs 82.80 crore (Rs 828 million) to the public exchequer, alleges CAG.
  • The decision of the Department of Space (DoS) to reduce the price of Ku-band transponders for Sun Direct triggers a loss of Rs 3.4 crore (Rs 34.09 million), notes CAG.
  • CAG states that the non-revision of prices have resulted in a loss of Rs 36.17 crore (Rs 361.7 million) to the DoS.
  • Prasar Bharati’s FTA DTH service Freedish completes 10 years on 16 December.
  • Ahead of IPO, Videocon d2h unveils Ultra HD STB; eyes 4K roll-out in six months.
  • Tata Sky demonstrates its UHD 4K STB; plans early 2015 roll-out.
  • Dish TV CEO RC Venkateish replaces Tata Sky MD and CEO Harit Nagpal as new president of DTH Association.
  • Private DTH operators have 29.33 million inactive subscribers out of 67.57 million registered subscribers as on 30 June 2014.

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