Action seems to be hotting up in the direct-to-home broadcasting (DTH) segment. Even as the Tata-Star Group joint venture is awaiting final approval from the Government, the Subhash Chandra-promoted Dish TV and Prasar Bharati's DD Direct Plus are going full throttle.
The national broadcaster, which offers free DTH services, has already managed to sell about 7.2 lakh set-top boxes (STBs) while Dish TV that offers a pay service has installed about two lakh STBs. It is increasing its marketing thrust to achieve one million subscribers by March 2006. A Dish TV STB is available for Rs 7,000, double the price of a DD Direct Plus box.
According to Prasar Bharati officials, "In addition to these STBs, which have been sold through the authorised route, an equal number of boxes have been sold through the grey market. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat seem to have been in the forefront in adopting this new technology."
Meanwhile, the CEO of Dish TV, Mr Sunil Khanna, emphasised that since DD's service is free, it cannot be compared to his company's offer.
"But we are embarking on a new marketing and promotional campaign to attract viewers in the urban region. So far we have focused on the semi-urban areas. But with many more premium channels in our bouquet, we want to target the upmarket SEC A customers who are willing to pay for the service," he said.
And for that the company is tying up with various consumer durable dealers. It is also planning to launch its video-on-demand service by May.
While the national broadcaster is planning to increase the number of channels in its bouquet from 30 to 50, Dish TV will offer about 200 channels by the end of the year.
Mr Khanna said the larger number of new channels launched in recent months has clogged the cable network. "Through DTH, we can offer up to 400 channels. Therefore, this has become an attractive platform for some of the new speciality channels," he added.
Prasar Bharati too is planning to consolidate its position in the non-urban markets. "A large number of households in rural India still own black-and-white television sets. We are targeting our service at them. Also, we are planning to run outdoor campaigns in SEC C and D towns," said an official.
Not to be left out, NewsCorp's chief, Mr Rupert Murdoch, is expected to visit India in March. Besides meeting with company officials and joint venture partners here, he is expected to call on the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and other Ministers. The Group's DTH application has been pending for over a year now, with the company missing the Diwali launch date.