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Pay-per-view waiting to hit pay dirt
MEDIA: The world over, it relies on adult content. Shorn of that, pay-per-view television is striving to come of age in India

If you are a Tata Sky user, the song Ringa Ringa must be ringing in your ears. It began the moment you switched on, as the direct-to-home service provider ran an incessant campaign for Oscar-nominated Slumdog Millionaire, which it aired on its pay-per-view platform, Showcase, for three days ending Sunday. The film was available for Rs 25 for an entire day and could be watched in Hindi or English.

Zee Networks’ DTH platform Dish TV will soon premiere Dev D, Bollywood’s latest take on Sharat Chandra’s obsessed alcoholic, Devdas, through its Movie-on-Demand. In the past few weeks, Dish TV has telecast films less than six months old, such as Fashion, A Wednesday and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Tata Sky’s chief marketing officer Vikram Mehra says his DTH platform, too, has shown Oye Lucky.

Clearly, pay-per-view is the new name of the game for DTH operators. “We are getting aggressive on our pay-per-view service. We have brought fresh Hindi titles as well as high-profile English films for our viewers,” says Mehra.

Adds Deepak Srivastava, CEO, DTH, Bharti Airtel: “To offer differentiated content to our viewers, we have tied up with several leading Indian and international studios like Warner Brothers, UTV Movies and Percept Picture Company.”

With so many DTH players in the market, pricing is no longer a differentiator. “The DTH industry, incurring huge losses for subsidising its product and services, needs content differentiation in terms of pay-per-view and other value-added services to woo subscribers,” says Salil Kapoor, chief operating officer of Dish TV. Besides, PPV — for which most DTH operators charge between Rs 25 and Rs 100 per subscriber — is expected to improve a company’s average revenue per user, or ARPU.

Cable is able
Interestingly, like DTH operators, cable companies, too, are gearing up to launch PPV services — where television content is bought to be viewed once or for a fixed period. Since PPV requires a digital box, Hindujas’ cable network, InCable, has already done test trials of its PPV service in homes which have taken its set top box. DEN Networks, a Network18 enterprise, is ready to launch its PPV service.

Digicable promoter Jagjit Singh Kohli says his cable network will start its PPV service in a couple of months. “We will brand it and it will be closer to ‘video-on-demand’ than PPV, the difference being that we could run our film on 20 slots and a viewer can catch it on another channel even if he misses 10 minutes of it,” he explains.

However, the real potential of PPV does not lie in films alone. “The world over, PPV is driven by events and sports, apart from films,” says an InCable spokesperson. Cable industry experts say PPV could be monetised by cable and DTH to generate revenue out of high-profile music concerts, awards functions and sports events. In developed markets, almost 70 per cent of PPV is adult content.

Bean counting
Monetising adult content may be a distant dream for Indian DTH and cable platforms. Even other than that, several glitches remain. For a start, the content industry needs to organise itself to determine a clear window for the digital television (DTH and cable) premieres. “Should pay-per-view premieres of films be allowed three-four weeks later or six months later? The value proposition is not clear and content owners need to organise themselves,” says Vikas Bali, president, digital initiatives and corporate strategy at DEN Networks.

Content providers must also operate on a revenue-share basis, rather than the prevalent system of minimum guarantee. “Minimum guarantees are not viable as it is not clear how many subscribers would opt for the PPV service,” says the Incable executive. A former DTH executive says that currently the PPV conversion is barely between one and two per cent. That is not all. A major portion, almost 30 per cent of the revenue that a PPV film generates, goes towards taxes.

Yet, DTH and cable operators are not fazed. Bali of DEN, for instance, is tweaking the PPV model a bit to offer a host of films, rather than push just a couple of titles at a time. “In India, pirated films are shown on cable for free. So, I do not expect people to pay Rs 50 for a new film on DTH, despite its DVD quality. We are creating a subscription model where we will show 20-30 films for a fixed sum. So, we will get a much wider subscriber base,” he says.

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