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DTH operators piggyback on festivals to add subscribers
Companies are offering special channels to cater to regional preferences; retailers being given incentives

In the run-up to Onam, Kerala’s biggest harvest festival that fell on 23 August, Reliance Big TV Ltd got busy promoting its direct-to-home (DTH) television service through 130-plus shops. The outcome: a 40% increase in subscription in the state.

The DTH firm is now preparing for Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day pan-India religious celebration that begins on 11 September. It will have kiosks near popular pandals or structures housing idols of Ganesh, the elephant god, as well as in-store promotions through 450-plus outlets in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Kolhapur, all in Maharashtra where the festival is celebrated with added fervour.

Umesh Rao, senior vice-president at Reliance BIG TV, the DTH arm of Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-Adag), expects to drive up his firm’s retail presence by 20% by offering trade promotion programmes, or incentives, to distributors and retailers during the campaign.

Operators in India’s `3,000 crore-plus DTH industry are piggybacking on the festival season to grow their subscriptions. Some half a dozen firms have only around 25 million subscribers among them and are competing for more.

While festival sales are not new to India, it’s the overdrive in the DTH industry that is drawing notice.

“They are at a stage where they need to acquire customers and such under-priced deals need to be pushed if they want to keep up with competition,” said Anand Shah, an analyst with Angel Broking Pvt. Ltd, referring to several large discounts and free offers lined up for Ganesh Chaturthi.

Reliance Big, for instance, is offering free DTH connections to buyers of Samsung LCD TV sets of 26 inches onwards in Maharashtra.

Airtel Digital TV, the DTH arm of Bharti Airtel Ltd, is offering high-definition DTH connections at an initial installation cost of `750 on purchase of a select range of LG flat panel TV sets. Buyers would also be entitled to a 75-day free subscription on certain packages, said Sugato Banerji, chief marketing officer, DTH services, Bharti Airtel.

Normally, the installation costs `2,840 for new subscribers and `2,250 for upgrade by existing customers. Post-installation, subscribers pay monthly as per the bouquet of channels they choose.

Following a doubling of sales volumes during Onam in Kerala, Airtel Digital is planning campaigns around Durga Puja and Diwali as well over the next couple of months.

Videocon d2h, part of Videocon Industries Ltd, is pushing its Ganesh Chaturthi platform on the plank that it delivers the most number of Marathi television channels.

The operator has also added Urdu channels in the run-up to Eid, which, too, falls around the second weekend of September.

“Regional viewing preferences are very important for us and we ensure every effort to provide more content for customers from different regions,” said Saurabh Dhoot, director, Videocon group.

Tata Sky, the DTH joint venture between the Star group and Tata group, is yet to launch its festival schemes.

Dish TV, which claims to be the country’s biggest DTH operator with at least 8 million subscribers, said it will wait to gauge offers by rivals before launching its festival packages.

India is the third largest in the Asian pay TV market, behind Korea and Taiwan, according to research firm Media Partners Asia (MPA).

Pay TV revenue from advertising and subscription in the country grew 17% in 2006 to $4.2 billion (around `19,660 crore) and is estimated to double to $10 billion by 2011 before rising to $16 billion by 2015, MPA said in a report earlier this year.

Ashok Mansukhani, president, Multi-System Operators Alliance, a body representing operators who distribute mostly free channels through the cable lines, said festival discounts show that DTH players are working on a cost-minus model. “Most of them have had four years of commercial operations and are covering nearly 25 million homes today. But they are bleeding.”

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Festival offers do help in a big way in pushing the brands sales.
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