A channel just for you

Written by Anushree Chandran | Updated: Dec 10 2013, 08:21am hrs
For a country thats well on its way to achieving 100% digitally addressable systems, what is the one thing that would help differentiate one direct-to-home (DTH) operator from the other The answer is exclusivity of content. In recent days, Airtel Digital Television has come up with a talent show for kids in the age group of 4-13 years. Kids can upload two-minute videos onto a page and Airtel will select 50 videos and showcase them on their interactive channel for kids called iKidsworld. Participants would be notified about the exact timings of the programme giving them a chance to watch themselves on television and inform friends and family about their two minutes of fame. Airtel Digital TV has a subscriber base of 8.6 million as on September 30 2013 and has other interactive channels as well, such as iDarshan which gives spiritual content, iExam which is a coaching center on television and iMusic which gives dedicated music content.

DTH companies are floating independent channels of their own and are scouting for partners to help them put up exclusive content. Some call them active channels, others tag them as interactive channels and then they are also dubbed as value added services or applications.

One of the first movers in the area of active channels is Tata Sky, a joint venture between the Star network and Tata Group. As of April 2013, we have a subscriber base of 11.5 million and 28% of them access these channels, says Vikram Mehra, chief commercial officer at Tata Sky. All the channels under the Actve brand are pay, except for Actve Darshan. A consumer can access them for Rs45 on a monthly basis, but if he enters into a longer term contract, he can access it for as low as 70 paisa/ per day. More than 2 million people have subscribed to such content, which is why its a viable revenue stream for us, says Mehra adding that he personally is a big believer in the revenue potential of such channels, which is why they, unlike other DTH companies, are not giving out this content for free. If you give it for free, customers will never take it seriously. And this is good premium content. In fact, I have 73 people whose entire mandate is to ensure the smooth working of these channels.

Tata Sky has recently started out with Actve Vedic Maths which has all the 24 sutras of the Vedas and is specifically targeted at students who are preparing for advanced mathematics. The company had earlier begun an astrology channel and a matrimony channel, but they did not see good response and the channels had to be pulled off. In total, Tata Sky has seven channels under the Actve brand which comprise Actve Darshan, Actve Fun Learn, Actve English, Actve Music, Actve Cooking, Actve Sports Games and Actve Vedic Maths. We are looking to explore new genres and we will expand our number of channels visibly in 2014, says Mehra. As far as audio music channels go, we will double the existing number. We currently have ten audio music channels.

Media Partners Asia (MPA), an independent provider of information services focusing on media, communications and entertainment industries says that the active DTH subscriber base is estimated to grow from 32.4 million in 2012 to 63.8 million by 2017 and 76.6 million by 2020.

Salil Kapoor, chief operating officer of Dish TV, says they have a jobs channel in association with Monster.com and a banking channel with ICICI Bank. It also has a games channel, in association with India Games. We are looking to launch more game based channels, and are scouting for partners. We are also contemplating launching education based channels. Such channels are kept free on our platform and the sole purpose is to enhance the experience for the viewer. We dont believing in keeping these as pay channels, says Kapoor.

Ashish Pherwani, partner at EY says that interactive channels are a smart customer retention strategy and also bring in additional revenues. Once you have sold a subscription pack to a customer, the only way to make extra revenues to put up exclusive interactive content. In a digitised environment, it gives a point of differentiation between platforms. As digitisation progresses, we can expect DTH operators to put up more content in the area of news, banking, shopping, retail and e commerce, he says. Pherwanis view is that such channels may be available for free on some DTH platforms, but could turn pay once they gain in popularity. They could also be a separate revenue stream.

There is nothing to stop DTH companies from bringing in advertisers on such content. They could make money from advertising and sponsorships. Airtel Digitals talent hunt is a smart idea. They are targeting kids who are already learning to be on the internet, and would be the online users of tomorrow. It works as a great promotional tool for the company as well, says Pherwani.