The Indian broadcast industry is going through some of its worst times since the cable and satellite industry took off. The last two months have seen channel heads spend more time with issues related to the Information and Broadcast Ministry and judiciary than of clients and channel operations. The tough period continues with the protest launched by the cable operators lobby in the form of a complete blackout in most of Maharashtra.
The chain reaction, which arguably began with a public interest litigation filed by Pratibha Nathani, resulted in the police force raiding cable TV control rooms. Not only were decoder boxes sealed, leading to English and Hindi movie channels going off-air, but equipment were also damaged.
This has led the cable operator lobby to protest against the action, stating why they should face the brunt as they are only the carriers and not content discriminators. While this has led to a whole range of debates and discussions on that front, one segment that is silently benefiting from the ordeal is the Direct-to-Home (DTH) service. With both Dish TV and Tata SKY going out of their way in terms of marketing and viewer communication, the cable blackout and the resulting coverage of DTH in papers like Mid Day and Radio Mirchi has turned into a fine PR exercise for DTH players.
While Mid Day chose DTH houses to be the cover story ‘Kyunki DTH Hai’ on August 22, 2006, FM stations like Radio Mirchi discussed topics like ‘Three reasons why one should have a DTH connection’. In all, DTH seems like the solution to the situation.
Giving a point of view here, Media e2e’s Chief Evangelist, Atul Phadnis, said, “Naturally, a whole user base cannot be held hostage, irrespective of what the situation is. The cable operator lobby’s decision to black out is puzzling and if anything, has left the viewers with a bad taste. I have personally helped people with DTH contact queries today. Two wrongs don’t make a right. A move like this will drive people off to another medium.”
STAR Entertainment’s President-Sales, Paritosh Joshi, said, “The cable operators have been channel partners for many years now and I don’t think that we would suddenly just turn hostile towards them. Technologies have to come in any market and more will come – there is a need to be more mature about subjects like these.”
He added, “There is a Sanskrit term that comes to mind here ‘Vivek Buddhi’, the ability to tell the right from the wrong. The industry itself is going through a trying period and it’s easy for everyone to be upset and get into a slinging match, but that is not going to help anyone right now.”
Rohit Gupta, Head, Sales, SET India, said, “This will obviously draw more attention to DTH, given that the players are even on an aggressive advertising mode now. Viewers can be really frustrated and they don’t mind looking for options. Even though this is an unfortunate event, I think the timing couldn’t be better for DTH players.”
Many other players like the MSOs or distribution heads restrained from offering their comments at the moment, citing the August 23, 2006 scheduled hearing and that the matter was sub judice.
At present, channels are a little divided on the impact on revenues. While Joshi thinks that sooner or later advertisers will question a loss on deliveries, Gupta and Joy Chakraborthy, EVP, Network Sales, Zee TV think otherwise. Chakraborthy said, “Advertisers today are professionals and not opportunists. When a show delivers higher than expected or NRS suddenly shows over 60 million households, we don’t go and ask for more money and similarly, they aren’t going to go back on deals.”
He added, “That said, we are all in long term relations here and once we can gauge the complete impact of the situation, we can assess what the losses are and what can be done.”
Gupta said, “Mass channels aren’t bought for a particular market. At present, there really won’t be any impact. However, a lot depends on how long this goes on.”
Adding more to this, Joshi said, “At present, there is no indication on how long this is expected to go on, but deliveries would be affected. Maharashtra is a crucial market. We will have to see how what can be done, once we understand better on how long will this go on and what the impact would be.”
Nonetheless, Phadnis sees an impact of almost Rs 10 crore for every day gone in this blackout for a market like Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra. He said, “This is a very critical market and has a strong regional set of players too. I believe the overall marketing opportunity loss would be even higher.”