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Breaking News : DTH players on the front foot
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Direct-to-home service providers eye a 21 per cent growth in 2011-12 on the back of consumer excitement to watch the 43-day ICC Cricket World Cup on high definition

Direct-to-home operators are eyeing the 43-day ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 - jointly hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - to increase their subscriber base.

In June 2010, India had 23.5 million DTH subscribers. While the industry recorded around 18 per cent growth on a year-on-year basis in 2010, it is all set to grow at 21 per cent in 2011-12.

The estimated growth is expected on the back of consumer excitement to watch the cricket extravaganza in high definition (HD) on their TV screens. The DTH industry - comprising Airtel, Dish TV, Reliance Big TV, Videocon D2H and Tata Sky - reportedly grew in excess of two million units in the festival months of October and November.

Cricket World Cup 2011 consumer

Dish TV, which leads the DTH pack with over nine million subscribers, is looking to breach the 10-million subscriber mark before the 2011 World Cup. Salil Kapoor, chief operating officer of Dish TV said HD set-top boxes will see a double growth in the upcoming cricket season. "The World Cup that is to be followed by IPL IV, can be as big as the Diwali season for us in terms of sales." Dish had reportedly added about two million subscribers in October-November.

Sugato Banerji, CMO (DTH Services), Bharti Airtel too is working on promotional deals to woo customers. "Festive occasions, sporting events have been an inflection point for the DTH industry and with a packed sports calendar culminating with the 2011 World Cup, the momentum continues." He refused to divulge further details. Bharti Airtel said it has been able to draw more than 60 per cent of its sales from consumers outside the top 300 towns.

Reliance Big TV, which rolled out its HD Digital Video Recorder or DVR set-top box eight months back, hopes that young professionals would take to the idea of recording matches on DVRs. The newest entrant, Videocon d2h too is leaving no stone unturned to woo consumers.

Saurabh Dhoot, director of Videocon Group said he will be tapping the consumer sentiment around the World Cup to advertise its product in a big way. "It would be great to initiate HD-DVRs, which are in the testing phase currently. We are working on detailed marketing plans to launch in the season for Videocon d2h."

DTH offers soon

Bharti Airtel said it has tasted success in joint promos like those with LG for its high-end HD LCD televisions. The promo was extended by a month to cash in on the rush around Onam. Similar alternatives are being sought by Bharti Airtel around the World Cup. Banerji said sales of HD set-top boxes and set-top boxes that can record programmes (personal video recorder or PVR) will be critical in the first few months of 2011. "Overall, there's a 100-day window for cricket and IPL matches and if we can record 15 per cent jump in HD STB sales today then 2011 can only be better."

Banerji, however, is not giving away any details. "New campaigns based around technology are sure to be launched and we will intensify our activity in retail stores and partnerships with TV brands."

Dish TV plans to offer all cricket channels under one common bouquet called India cricket pack for a monthly subscription of Rs 30. "Various cricket events, like IPL and World Cup 2011, will be broadcast over different channels that may not be subscribed by the user. Under this bouquet, Dish subscribers get cricket channels, irrespective of whichever channel is broadcasting," said Kapoor.

Delighting with VAS and more

Interactive services like pay-per-view, educational and devotional content have been touted as one of the important factors to retain consumers but revenue inflow for interactive services remains low.

Bharti Airtel, which had tested grounds on sports-based interactive content around Common Wealth Games, is confident that they can recreate the same for the World Cup. "If the content providers agree, then we could have match highlights, game of the day, etc for the World Cup or IPL IV," said Banerji.

While Dish TV distributes its interactive content for free, Tata Sky has enhanced its interactive gaming service called Actve Games in association with Hungama Game Studio, which can be subscribed for a monthly rental of Rs 50.

Vikram Mehra, chief marketing officer, Tata Sky reasoned: "These services are no longer just value-added services; they are fast becoming the core business, which is why Tata Sky continues to innovate and build on its core offering of interactivity. With DTH gaining a very strong foothold into the Indian pay TV market, gaming could be the next big step after education."

The Actve Game service provides over 50 different games with at least six games available for subscribers daily. Mehra said Tata Sky will constantly update the games catalogue for its growing subscriber base of over six million connections.

Videocon d2h, too, has seen consumers thronging on its Active Music Space, with a subscription fee of Rs 10 per month (service tax extra) and on-demand movie. "The Active Music Space is part of our regular service which we provide free of cost to customers in the south," said Dhoot.
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