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'No place in Asia has the level of content that India has'
Sue Taylor is senior vice-president for NDS, the software technology company that makes software for DTH and cable TV set top boxes. NDS, which has already invested $120 million in its R&D centre in Bangalore, is ready to pump in another $ 150 million. The Hong Kong-based Taylor was in New Delhi recently and spoke to Shuchi Bansal on trends in digital boxes.

A couple of years ago Tata Sky was your only client in India. How has the company done so far?
We have four customers in India now — Tata Sky and Bharti Digital in the DTH market place and two large multi-system operators (MSOs) DEN and Hathway in the cable market place.

Isn’t there a conflict of interest with clients other than Tata Sky since it’s partly owned by News Corp which also owns NDS?
We were 72 per cent owned by News Corporation and listed on the NASDAQ. But we actually went private in February this year. So now we are 51 per cent owned by Permira which is a venture capital company and 49 per cent by News Corporation. We are operationally independent and the customer base in India shows that.

Will India make its own set top boxes?
Since we are not a set top box manufacturer, we work with set top box makers in Korea, Europe and China. However, we are encouraging the development of an Indian box which may be ready by the end of the year. It may have an advantage in terms of price, quality of service and warranty.

Any forecast on new set top box technologies?
The two big trends will be the personal video recorder (PVR) and the HD (high definition) box. PVR changes the viewing experience completely (you can record or pause live TV) and it is good from the position of the platform as the churn on a PVR is almost nil. PVR may be very new in India but its biggest markets are Italy, the US, UK and Australia. We actually did a survey in these markets and PVR came out to be the third most useful household appliance after the refrigerator and mobile phone… In Italy it came fourth after the hair dryer!

The HD box hasn’t happened here but it’s a huge driver in the rest of the world.

The Indian government has mandated interoperable boxes for DTH platforms. Are they compulsory in other markets as well?
No. Here the government wants to promote interoperability. In the rest of the world it is left much more to the DTH operators. The reality is that people do not use the function of interoperability. If, as a subscriber, I was moving from one platform to another, I would probably be given a set top box free of charge now. So the subscriber is protected.

My point is that effectively you have got commercial interoperability. You don’t need to have technical interoperability, it costs money to make a box interoperable. Already hundreds of billions of dollars are going into this market so why add cost to something that is never going to be used? The subscriber in India is getting an amazing deal.

You have a huge amount of content here. In the rest of Asia no place has the level of content that India has. China, supposedly the biggest digital market place in Asia, has a very flat offering. It gets a fraction of the number of channels that India gets at the same price. In Hong Kong, for fewer channels, the cost is 10-12 times more than in India.

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