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General News HD channel count set to rise
The Indian television space has seen several high-definition (HD) channels being launched in the last 18 months--as many as 29 since January 1 last year, out of which 11 were started in 2016. With the ecosystem getting more conducive for greater adoption and consumers seeking better-quality pictures, more are expected in the near future. 

The total HD count in India is 67 channels, out of a total of more than 500 in the country, with the first having been started in 2010 by National Geographic. The next year saw 22 channels being launched in the infotainment, sports, general entertainment and movie genres

Regional markets haven't seen too many HD channels but that may be about to changed

"The penetration of HD has remained low in regional markets owing to non-availability of local language channels in HD format," a Star India spokesperson said. "We believe in creating value for consumers and have been focusing on HD not just since the last one year, but much earlier than that." 

Star India has the highest count of HD channels with 23 in its portfolio, followed by Viacom18, which has 11. 

"The classic question is do you make the market or does the market make you," said Sudhanshu Vats, group CEO at Viacom18. "In terms of HD, it's a better viewing experience for my consumer. And we have already exposed the audiences to HD in some of the genres, and their expectations are already high." 

As most programmes are made in HD anyway, there isn't much of an added cost. 

"The quality is distinctly better compared to standard definition (SD). It's just the question of incurring a little bit of additional cost on a pipe or spectrum," Vats said. 

Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEE), which has eight HD channels, plans regional HD feeds in Marathi, Bengali and Telugu. 

"Currently, HD offers a premium in both advertising and subscription," said Sunil Buch, chief business officer at ZEE. "However, in a few years, it will become more mainstream, eventually leading to the phasing out of SD. The launching of HD channels is one of the ways of capturing the premium segment of the market, who want high-quality content." 

Analysts put the HD subscriber base at 6-8 million. While growth has been slow, distribution platforms such as direct-to-home (DTH) and digital cable are trying to push HD adoption. In fact, for most DTH players, HD accounts for 20-25% of new subscriber additions. 

"Overall, the growth of HD subscribers has not been as strong as we expected it to be. Yet, it has reached a stage where it makes sense for us to offer all our contents in HD as well," said NP Singh, CEO of Sony PicturesNetworks India (SPN), which has six HD channels and is planning to launch Le Plex HD, SAB HD and Sony BBC Earth HD this year. 

HD consumption has been growing across multiple genres. 

"Our objective, as a broadcaster, is to make sure that all our content is available to the viewers in the format that they would prefer to see it in," Singh said. "Most of our channels are available in HD already. In a few weeks' time, SAB too will be available in HD" 

The ecosystem supports the growth of HD, said Ashish Pherwani, head, advisory, media and entertainment, at consulting firm EY. 

"The broadcasters' move is ARPU (average revenue per user) driven," he said. "Today, there is an opportunity. It is an aspirational product and there is support of infrastructure too. Look at the sale of HD TV sets, and the sale of HD set-top boxes." 

Vivek Srivastava, business head of the English entertainment cluster at Times Network, said: "This is industry investing for the future. Eventually, the market will move to HD to a great extent and we are already seeing the signs. There are many channels only in HD. We launched MN+, which is an HD-only channel, after realizing that there is a significant audience."
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