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Course correction, direct to consumer

Bapun Raz

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Tata Sky is attempting to calibrate its offerings based on feedback, while telling the audience it is ‘premium' only on offering, not price.


Creating a certain perception about a category or brand is, arguably, easier than changing entrenched perceptions. The latter challenge for the DTH category, and itself in particular, is what Tata Sky has taken up — starting with the perception that it is ‘expensive' and ‘inflexible'. And, like any services category, DTH is replete with challenges of customer dissatisfaction — proof of which is available in abundance on the Internet.

The dissonance between consumer perception on parameters such as pricing and service quality, and what is actually on offer, was accentuated by lack of consumer awareness, thanks in large part to lack of communication, argues Vikram Mehra, Tata Sky's Chief Marketing Officer, in conversation with BrandLine.

The brand says it has brought down pricing, introduced new packages, tightened the back-end on service, and introduced value-additions born of consumer feedback. A series of TV commercials are on air, and Mehra reveals that channel partner education is in focus too.

He says, “We're still not flawless. We still have issues. But we try to not make commitments in the market till the time we are reasonably comfortable that our team knows what it is talking about.” More excerpts:

What are the perceptions you are addressing, and how are you correcting them (besides through the ad campaign)?

DTH as a category and Tata Sky in particular were perceived by some segments as expensive and inflexible. There was also a perception that no package on Tata Sky would cost less than Rs 400 or so a month, which is far from the truth. We have packages that start at Rs 150 and customised packages at 185, Rs 250 and so on.

We've also brought down prices. We've slashed our service charges drastically. Today, I think we're the only service provider to offer a one-year warranty not just on the set-top box (STB) but on the entire wiring and set-up. After that, you can go in for an AMC, or you can call us with a service request, for which we've brought down the charge to a flat rate of Rs 125.

And, any benefit we offer subscribers is not limited to new subscribers. When there is a price hike, we protect our old subscribers for at least six months. When there is a price drop, it goes to them immediately.

In multiple television households, people didn't realise that we only charge Rs 160 per month for the second, third and fourth connections. Then there was the belief that you get the goodies only when you join. We've introduced a bonus for any customer who tops up for Rs 301.

When people go on vacation, they don't pay for electricity, the home phone, or newspapers, and the like. So why should they pay for their TV connection, whether it's DTH or cable? We've launched an annual subscription holiday.

The entire focus is on how we can make their lives as simple as possible, from the choice of packages to relocation assistance. Many of the initiatives have been kicking in over the last 10 months or so. Now that we know our house is in complete order, we're going out and talking about it.

One hears that DTH subscribers going in for a second connection in the house — often go in for a cable connection — because of the transmission issues during rain. Is that true?

No KU band-based DTH service (on which all providers in India operate) can claim that rain fade (transmission break during rains) will never happen.

The satellite transmits signals on to the surface of the dish, which reflects them on to a centre arm, which then sends it through the cable to your STB. The moment rain droplets start becoming big, the signal starts getting refracted. So unless you have 1.5-metre dish antennas (where even if signals get refracted they are collected by the larger surface of the dish), rain fade will happen. The bigger dish antennas cannot be put up at every home.

You can reduce the possibility of that happening by increasing the power of the signal, you can do a little bit about the size of the dish — we are doing all that. But the fact is that you cannot protect it 100 per cent.

In the case of multiple television households where all the TVs are used — as against a back-up TV — why would anyone compromise with analogue quality, when they are used to digital quality on through DTH? Customers will find it difficult to compromise on quality.

In a year of really heavy monsoons, we are talking of 20 to 22 minutes of cumulative rain fade. If the monsoon is not so heavy, it'd be 10 to 15 minutes. For that, is it worth suffering analogue picture quality through the year?

Every utility service has a vulnerable point. And this is not just an issue with DTH here. It holds in Japan, the US, Australia, Malaysia and parts of Europe.

High-definition channels consume greater bandwidth, which is said to be an issue ...

A HD channel consumes four to five times the bandwidth of a normal channel. But that has not stopped us from getting any real HD channel. There are very few native HD channels in the market today. Yes, I accept that there are a couple that are not on our platform — if they are popular, we will look at those channels too.

Bandwidth is a crunch. Given the constraints, we try to achieve the best balance between high definition, value-added services and regional channels. Channels do keep getting added on at all times. UTV Stars has just been launched. We are the first ones to get it on the platform — and we are supposed to have bandwidth issues!

We went in for an audience measurement system from the word go — we were working with aMap at that time. We have customer panels in place and we get data on a weekly basis. On a random basis, we try and get feedback on what content people want on the 80,000 calls that land at the call centre each day.

There are over 450 channels — we cannot accommodate that many. Based on a comprehensive understanding of which channels are in demand, they come on to the platform. If customers are asking for it, they get it.

There is a view that DTH packages are going the cellular tariffs way. It gets so confusing that you end up choosing the flat fee mega pack, with all the channels ...

The rates have actually come down, drastically. I don't think anyone has made a clear, genre-based packaging like we have. What's the use of packages if the consumer always feels deprived of something?

Since last October, our packages have become genre-based. All 200 channels are available on an a la carte basis, and all 200 are classified into genres. And then there are combination packages.

We have a humongous number of people who pick the Rs 250 pack, and on top of that, they want an HBO or a Star Movies. We're not saying, “I'll give you Cartoon Network but not Pogo”. Take what you want — none, one or both, or all the channels in that genre.

Now, we also call every new customer within three days of their joining, and lead them through anything that's missing on their platform, or a package that can get them more value for money.

Are physical recharges at retail points still the majority channel? Are they equipped to understand packages and guide customers?

Credit card-based recharge through the call centres and Web recharges are proving increasingly popular, but the majority of recharges would still be at retail outlets.

It is a challenge. And we are not running away from it. Which is why, for seven to eight months now, every customer gets a call on the third day of their joining. You may say, ‘So what's the big deal with placing a call?'

Please also see the cost to us with each additional call. We're making the call to ensure that the customer ends up making the right choice.

At times, customers end up with a package that's much more expensive than what they actually want. We downgrade people to more optimal packages.

How big is the base on your annual mega pack, on which you get all channels?

Large … very large.

Is that because the other choices are so confusing?

It's not because the other packages are confusing; it's about convenience. Also, mega pack customers get all service charges free; all relocations free. If you're out of warranty and something goes wrong, we'll repair it free of cost. And with the mega pack, you will automatically get to watch every new channel added on the platform. The mega pack is positioned to give the ultimate in convenience.

This is evident from the popularity of even the Rs 9,900 mega pack — for two years, everything that's available on Tata Sky is available to you. And people are buying it, because it's convenient.

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/brandline/article2453310.ece
 
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