The DTH industry’s big developments in 2014

Dileep Kumar

8 Jul 2013
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MUMBAI: 2014 was the year of mixed fortunes for the direct to home television industry in India. The seven players in the industry continued to burn cash as customer acquisition costs continued to stay at high levels, at least one of the players spent a large part of the year looking for a white knight, all the players pushed ahead with their HD offerings in phase I, and II digitisation areas, leading to attractive rises in average revenues per user. The total number of registered subscribers and active subscribers, for all the six DTH players, as per the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) report, as on 30 June 2014 was 67.57 million and 38.24 million respectively.

Close to 43.41 per cent of DTH subscribers were inactive till June 2014.
At least two of the players have started generating positive cash flows during the year, even as new spectacular announcements of preparing launches of Ultra HD or 4K services were made during the year.
PFresh debt and equity infusions, efforts to introduce new subscriber packages, and an announcement of new policy directions for licensing DTH by TRAI were the hallmark of the year.

The DTH industry in the country saw some big innovative changes being made over the year 2014.

These helped the industry in adding more subscribers while marginally increasing the average revenue per user (ARPU).

The year began with three DTH operators, Tata Sky, Sun Direct and Reliance Digital TV being issued notices by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B) for not showing the mandatory 24 Doordarshan channels. Later on the Ministry also pulled the entire DTH industry for not paying licence fee worth Rs 2066 crore.

The DTH ops resisted the amount stating that they had been paying the fees on the gross revenue (GR) basis while the government was extracting it on the adjusted gross revenue (AGR). A court case on the same had been pending from nearly four years and is still ongoing.

However, Tata Sky and Reliance decided to challenge the same in the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) while Sun Direct made an application on its 2009 petition regarding AGR.

The licence fee case was put in the backburner by the TDSAT stating that since it is relative to the telecom case on licence fee issue, it would hear that case first and then come to the DTH case. By the end of the year, however, the TDSAT agreed to hear the DTH ops separately rather than wait in line, the case is still on.

Tata Sky in the meanwhile has already paid a sum of Rs 383 crore to the I&B Ministry, while Dish TV awaits court orders.

The budget 2014 got some relief to the set top box (STB) manufacturers by reducing the excise duty from 12 per cent to 10 per cent from February to June 2014. However, they continued to fight the entertainment and service tax that was being levied on them since several years while cable operators go without paying it. Dish TV raised the issue with the finance minister Arun Jaitley and then I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar to discuss the multi layered taxes, which however didn’t lead to any conclusive solution on the same.

DTH ops are subjected to licence fee, 12. 3 per cent service tax and also entertainment tax at the state level.
The DTH Operators Association also saw a change of head with Dish TV CEO RC Venkateish replacing Tata Sky MD and CEO Harit Nagpal. Doordarshan ADG Ranjan Thakur who also headed Freedish moved out due to the expiry of his term.

Freedish has been working on adding several Indian as well as international channels through its auctions while also setting up MPEG-4 boxes alongside MPEG-2 for the interior parts of the country.

Several new innovations came across last year. Tata Sky introduced a new feature of Karaoke on TV while Videocon d2h came out with a headphone attached to the remote for watching TV without disturbing others. Both of them also were the first ones to introduce 4K HD TV set top boxes in the country. However, the official commercial rollout for both has yet to happen. Tata Sky even did a live telecast of one of the FIFA world cup matches on its 4K TV as a demo.
Dish TV on the other hand, chose to go local, by introducing customised packs for regional India. A sub-brand ‘Zing’ was launched that would give localised packages in the states of West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Seemandhra, Telangana and Maharashtra. The oldest DTH operator also heaved a sigh of relief when after months, it received the nod from the Sri Lanka government to commence operations for its DTH project in the neighbouring country.

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