DTH operators have seen their subscriber bases stagnate over the last three quarters at around 67 million, data from Trai show. The big culprit, say industry watchers, is Doordarshan’s Free Dish which, thanks to its bouquet of free-to-air channels, has mopped up some 30 million subscribers.
Dish TV’s plans come cheap at Rs 85 per month and viewers can also choose to pick up channels available a-la-carte. Of the country’s total cable and satellite (C&S) subscriber base of 183 million in 2017-18, DTH’s share including Doordarshan’s Free Dish, was around 72 million households or 40%, according to KPMG.
But with local digital cable services more affordable in many markets, the growth in DTH subscriber bases, which had already tapered off in 2017-18, could slow further. Cable services, industry watchers say, come for around `250-400 a month whereas even a no-frills DTH connection costs upwards of Rs 400 per month. ”When compared with DTH, cable is more affordable. So in many smaller markets where Free Dish subscribers are migrating to pay TV, they opt for cable which comes for as low as `250-`400 per month,” Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte, pointed out.
To counter the competition, DTH players are coming up with more affordable options for viewers. Girish Menon, Partner, KPMG, believes these slim packs could lure households to DTH platforms especially in smaller markets where bulk of subscribers still use DD Free Dish. “Where the average DTH ARPU is around `200-250, these packs cost around `100,” Menon said.
Total television revenues from subscriptions in 2017-18 were Rs 42,800 crore, a growth of 9.1% over the previous year.For Airtel Digital, the DTH arm of Bharti Airtel, the ARPU remained flat at `229 in Q1FY2019, against `228 in the corresponding quarter a year ago.
However, it reported a 10% increase in its user base to 14.6 million from 13.3 million in Q1FY18. Jawahar Goel, chairman and MD, Dish TV believes the new tariff order, which allows viewers to select channels a-la-carte rate, will push up ARPUs. “Right now viewers are compelled to subscribe to channels that they don’t really want and so they tend to give up the subscription or opt for a cheaper package,” Goel explained.
Goel claims that currently 3.5 million subscribers of Dish TV have opted for channels on a-la-carte basis. The total net subscriber base stood at 23.3 million at the end of the Q1FY2019. With the change in pricing strategy and packages — Dish TV claims its ARPU in Q1FY19 increased to `214 from `201 in the previous quarter.
On May 23, 2018, the Madras High Court gave the go-ahead to the new tariff order for TV channel pricing. Subsequently, Star India filed a petition against the Trai tariff and inter-connect order and the Supreme Court will now hear the matter on September 25.
Star India and its subsidiary channel Vijay TV claimed the Trai regulations directly impact the ability for a broadcaster to acquire or produce programming for its channels.” A broadcaster acquires or produces a programme at market cost,” Star’s petition said. Star further added this would have an adverse impact on the cost of content acquisition. For example, it pointed out, an Oscar winning movie is costlier than other film.
Meanwhile, ZEE Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL), Sony Pictures (SPNI) and TV18 have published TV channel pricing in the new format and declared the new channel prices. As per the new tariff order the maximum retail price (MRP) that a broadcaster can charge for a GEC channel is Rs 12.The MRP of news channel has been fixed at cost Rs 5 and a sports channel has the highest MRP at Rs 19. In case of bouquet of 10 channels sold by a broadcaster, the cost of the bouquet will not be less than 85% of the sum of the MRP of the 10 channels.