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DTH companies see big money in ad innovation
Meena Pande, a 28-year-old marketing professional, is back from a hard day’s work. A direct-to-home (DTH) subscriber, she switches on her TV set to watch her favourite channel. What greets her, instead, is an advertisement.

She gets up for some water, and when she comes back, realises that not only is the ad being repeated but the entire channel blocked by a single advertiser. The ad keeps on playing till she manually switches channels.

DTH companies such as Dish TV, Tata Sky and Airtel are considering innovative propositions like these ads, which play up when powered. And, static ones that are displayed on the electronic programme guide, besides interactive ones — all to monetise a medium that’s still too small to attract advertisers in hordes.

From the current 19 million, the DTH subscriber base is projected to touch 29-30 million by the end of the next financial year, a 50 per cent jump. “It is only then that I see the platform being taken seriously by media planners,” says Nandini Dias, chief operating officer, Lodestar Universal, a media buying and planning agency.

Till then, DTH companies are doing their bit to harness the medium’s potential. For instance, Tata Sky, with a subscriber base of over 4.5 million — and second to Dish TV, the leader that has an over 6.5-million base — has seen 30-35 brands, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Hindustan Unilever, associate with it over the past 15-18 months.

Dish TV, though around longer, has been slower, with fewer brands associating with it. But, chief operating officer Salil Kapoor says the company is moving fast on that. A newer entrant like Airtel has attracted advertisers such as Maruti, Cadbury, Nestle, Hewlett Packard and Yahoo, according to Sugato Banerji, chief marketing officer (CMO), direct-to-home, Bharti Airtel.

Companies have different models in place. Tata Sky, according to its CMO, Vikram Mehra, has the default, power-on channel available for advertising, besides the interactive application platform, where advertisers can associate as content providers, thereby getting their branding on the channel. “Or, they can do interactive ads on our platform,” says Mehra. “So, a viewer interested in a particular ad can click a button that appears on the screen. This takes him to a page that provides relevant details. For more information, the viewer has to type in a short code that appears on the screen, using his mobile. This information is then passed to the relevant advertiser. The latter can accordingly get in touch with the viewers, based on leads we pass,” he says.

Most, including Airtel, are promoting these interactive ads on their platforms. “It works well on the DTH medium,” says Banerji. “There is a lot of traction we are seeing for it.”

Equally effective, he said, are static ads that appear on the booting screen and the electronic programme guide. “When you switch on your direct-to-home connection, the first screen that appears is the booting screen. From there, it goes to the default channel in the case of a few operators. Our technology takes the subscriber straight to the last-viewed channel from the booting screen. We have monetised the booting screen. In the case of the electronic programme guide, a subscriber is using it repeatedly during viewership. So, that is another property we have monetised,” he adds.

Different properties have a different costing exercise. Interactive ads are charged on the basis of costs per lead, while ad rates on the default, power-on channels are worked out on the basis of half-hour and one-hour slots. Players such as Tata Sky, for instance, are said to be charging anywhere between Rs 6 lakh for half-hour slots and Rs 12 lakh for one-hour slots for a period of 30 days, for those keen on advertising on its default, power-on Channel 100.

This is still cheaper than cable & satellite television, where ad rates are very steep. A 10-second spot on a popular show such as Balika Vadhu on the Hindi general entertainment channel, Colors, for instance, costs Rs 1.1 lakh. So, 10 minutes of advertising time in the 30-minute show rakes in Rs 66 lakh for the channel. Multiply this figure with 20, the number of days Balika Vadhu appears in a month, and the channel is taking home Rs 13.2 crore every 30 days!

Critics argue that the premium on cable & satellite advertising is not misplaced, given the fact that it reaches over 70 million homes in India.


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