DTH companies hanging by a thread

Business National Pandemic

DTH companies lost an active user base of 5.4 million over the past two years.

Over a span of eight years, Srinivas G V has been working for multiple Direct-to-home (DTH) companies. Despite listening to customer complaints and repairing DTH dishes in the scorching sun and cloudbursts, it now becomes tough for him to lead a family with his meagre income.

The latest report from the Telecom Regulation Authority of India (TRAI) shows that the total active subscriber base of pay DTH has decreased from 70.99 million on December 20, 2020, to 65.58 million on September 30, 2022.

Srinivas said that he gets paid on the number of calls he attends. Earlier he used to get 10 to 15 calls every day. But now as the subscriber base has reduced, he receives a maximum of four or five calls which affects his income considerably.

“When I go for field work, people ask me who will prefer watching DTH these days. I figured out that only elderly people still watch our television and the younger generation most of the time enjoy watching content from OTT platforms and other smart devices,” he said.

Manikandan, Regional Service Manager of Sun Direct that holds 18.81 per cent of the total market share of DTH operators in India said that their business is mainly affected in the urban areas than rural areas. “With the arrival of high-speed internet connections and Over the Top (OTT) platforms, our urban markets are affected, but our rural markets still stay strong.”

He admits that with the implementation of 5G internet connectivity and an increase in OTT platforms and other DTH channels, it will be competitive for them in the future.

An OTT Audience (Sizing) report by Ormax Media, a Mumbai-based media consultancy firm shows that India’s OTT universe now stands at 423.8 million people with a growth of 20 per cent from  2021. India’s OTT penetration now stands at 30 per cent up from 25.3 per cent in 2021.

Sujatha S, a former professor of communication at Osmania University said that DTH companies should find the pulse of the local audience. “Sample surveys could be conducted in every locality for the growth of DTH companies and the integrated marketing communication should be intensified.”

She also said that the OTT platforms are going to win the viewership race in India over DTH platforms because it depends on how fast they receive the content and at what cost. “DTH companies have to work on that.”

Free Dish surging

She gave an example of DD Free Dish by Prasar Bharati to indicate growth despite all these challenges. Between 2017 and 2021,the Free DTH service by Doordarshan witnessed a growth of almost 100 per cent from 20 million to 43 million.

During its initial years, the growth of DD Free Dish was slow with 33 channels. But now they offer more than 100 channels without any subscription except a set-top box.

“The fall in paid subscriptions is attributed to rural subscribers who are moving to free TV platforms and some urban subscribers moving to connected TV. Also, free television continued to grow its base to reach an estimated 43 million subscribers on the back of less expensive television sets, economic issues, and addition of new channels to the platform,” a recent Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry –Ernest Young (FICCI-EY) report says.

 The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Prasar Bharati, Shashi Shekhar Vempati in a statement said that the platform allows for new channels and are challenging bigger media houses and allows users to subscribe to the content free of cost according to their wishes. Now, DD Free Dish is providing around 150 channels.

Hanging cables

The number of cable connections in Indian homes fell from 115 million to 100 million. Vinod Kumar Chawla, a partner in cable network STN TV Network wrote in a guest column for a website, Indian Broadcasting world that cable operators were struggling with integration and roll-out challenges. He added that local cable operators were not educated enough to quickly realise the advantages of digital technology and its adoption.

However, a DTH service shop owner in Bangalore who refused to be named said that local cable operators are torturing them for providing DTH services in the locality and are compelling households to stay back with the cable connection. 

A recent report by professional services network Deloitte shows that television broadcasters in India are looking at losses of almost $3 billion, although that has not been recognised as a separate offence by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act. Pirates were able to crack codes of DTH boxes and retransmit them through rogue websites and content aggregator apps.

Also, the number of satellite TV channels in India has reduced from 909 on December 2021 to 885 on September 30 2022.

Around 70 percent of his friends quit their jobs from these cable companies and Srinivas is now sceptical about his future and the future of the DTH industry as well.

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