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Help DTH ops eye 20% growth in cricket season, bat for HD
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MUMBAI: The big game has started for the direct-to-home (DTH) operators as they expect to post a 20 per cent subscription gain during the cricket season with a variety of packages during the World Cup and the Indian Premier League.

The HD rage is on as DTH operators feel they can score over cable TV networks with a superior quality viewing offer.

Dish TV, India’s largest DTH company in terms of subscribers, has created a product portfolio of 30 channels in high definition and will splash around Rs 200 million to market that offering. The aim: to script the HD revolution in India and build the category through content expansion, consumer education and high-end product service.

Dish TV recently inked a deal seeking additional transponder capacity on AsiaSat 5 that will enable it to significantly up its DTH offerings. It will be utilising four 54 MHz Ku-band transponders on AsiaSat 5 to enhance its HD and SD offerings.

The price of the set-top box (STB) has been reduced by Rs 600. Says Dish TV CEO RC Venkateish, “The offtake of HDTV sets by consumers was limited by the availability of limited content. Now that we have added 30 HD channels, we expect to see a serious boom in demand. The cricket season will kick this off in a big way. We have also tied up with Samsung for offers. The TG for both overlaps."

Dish TV aims to add over 300,000 HD customers next fiscal, a step many see as lifting ARPUs in the DTH sector. The company is looking at having 15 per cent of its subscribers taking up an HD connection by the end of 31 March 2012.

Tata Sky, India’s largest DTH company in terms of revenue, has rolled out Tata Sky+ HD for Rs 3,999. This is a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) that offers high-quality recordings at up to 1080i resolution. Equipped with a 500GB hard drive, one can now not only watch but record minute to minute action.

Anticipating a surge in demand, the company is framing promotional schemes, value-added services (Vas) and channel packages. Apart from the ‘India Cricket Pack’ which allows subscribers to watch all live international matches that India will be playing without subscribing to individual sports channels, the company has also introduced a ‘Supreme Sports’ pack which offers the best combination of all Hindi channels (GEC, Movies, Music, Knowledge), two regional language packs of their choice and all sports channels that include ESPN Star Sports, Star Cricket, Neo Sports and Neo Cricket at a monthly fee of Rs 240.

Tata Sky CMO Vikram Mehra says that the aim is to take the experience to the next level with its Actve Sports service and the new Tata Sky+ HD. "In a country where cricket is nothing short of a religion, we will provide fans with a unique, economical and equally effective way of enjoying the stadium experience from the comfort of their homes.”

Tata Sky has also launched Actve Sports, an interactive service. Viewers can choose multiple camera angles from which they wish to watch the match. The cricket fans will no longer need to wait to watch match highlights, player statistics or ball trajectory.

Reliance Digital TV CEO Sanjay Behl says that it has done a deal with ESPN Star Sports to air the matches in HD. "We expect a gain of 20 per cent during the season. Subscribers who take the HD pack of six channels get the World Cup free. We expect subscribers in the bigger cities to take the HD box. The smaller towns and cities will take the basic box."

The company has tied up with Onida for special offers. Consumers buying a 22" or 24" LED TV or any of Onida's LCD TVs will get a Reliance HD DTH connection with a one-month subscription of the Reliance Diamond Pack worth Rs 2,888 absolutely free. Consumers purchasing a Onida 32" or 40" ICare LED TV would get a Reliance Digital Video Recorder with a 120 GB hard disk drive providing up to 200 hours of recording and a one-month subscription of the Diamond pack worth Rs 6,288 absolutely free.

Meanwhile, Airtel digital TV has the Economy Sports Pack. This entitles new Airtel digital TV HD customers to enjoy the full cricket season till September for Rs 3190. Customers can now have seven sports channels as part of this pack.

Customers get a three-month free subscription to the Economy Sports Pack that has 148 channels from different genres and two interactive services. Like other DTH service providers, Airtel digital TV has also tied up with a consumer electronics company - Sony Bravia. The company claims that over 15 per cent of new customers in the metros have joined its HD service.

Videocon d2h has set itself an aggressive target of around 40 -50 per cent jump in activations during the cricket season. It launched its high-definition (HD) digital video recorder (DVR) in the run up to the World Cup. This offers normal DVR functionality with high-definition viewing.

Sun Direct CEO Tony D’Silva concedes that designing sports offers for the Indian audience is quite a challenging task. To get new subscribers, it is offering the World Cup for free with a six month Value Plus pack at Rs 1,690. Consumers can also avail a one year Value Plus pack for Rs 2,490 and watch the World Cup and the IPL for free.

For its existing customer base, a renewal of the Value Plus Pack for six months entitles them to the World Cup for free. They can also renew the Value Plus pack for one year at Rs 1, 740 and get the World Cup and IPL for free. Customers can also buy ESPN and Star Sports on an a la carte basis and view the World Cup for Rs 25 a month. This promotional offer is available till 25 March.

Clearly, the DTH companies are not just aggressively pushing for more subscribers during the cricket season but also seeing HD as a big opportunity for upping ARPUs. The cable TV sector should see a message in this.

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