The clearance of Tata-STAR joint venture, Space TV and Sun Direct TV essentially means the prevalence of four Direct-to-home (DTH) platforms by 2005 end. DTH expansion is one of the most awaited developments for the television industry and experts delve more on the reasons why the government's decision on the clearance is a positive one.
A reason why most players needed addressability platforms like DTH to enter the India market was due to various problems that Cable and Satellite platform poses. "The bandwidth problem, due to which C&S platform allows limited channels, will be solved with DTH," said Farokh Balsara, Industry leader, Media and Entertainment, Ernst & Young.
"There would be more competition and more choices for the consumer. With players like STAR, Tata and also Sun now, entering the field there would be more aggression, resulting in substantial action in DTH," said Rajesh Jain, KPMG.
Giving a more comprehensive look on the scene, TAM's Atul Phadnis, said, "In addition to the bandwidth problem, there are other cases in the C&S platform, where DTH provides an alternative."
He pointed out, "DTH can make a mark in areas, which due to unique geographical positioning are low on both terrestrial and C&S services, hence reaching the unreachable. Second factor is cable fatigued areas - whether it is monopoly of a cable operator leading to high prices or cable operators who cannot invest in constant up-gradation - DTH will be an alternative here as well."
Consequently, not only is there a scene where the viewers will largely benefit but also one where C&S might need to be more careful.
However, when asked about the effect on DTH on C&S, whether in terms of viewership impact or advertiser impact, the experts opined that DTH will presently not pose any threat to C&S.
"The Indian market is maturing enough for multiple distribution platforms to survive," said Jain, adding, "Whether it is cable, IPTV or DTH we are going to see consumers embrace more platforms, in the process developing television industry further."
"DTH growth will primarily come from the affluent markets, wherever they are. And hence we are talking at best 5 per cent of the population to begin with. This will not really make a dent in the C&S market, which is widespread and easily available in the present market conditions," said Balsara.
Can this scene change in the longer run? "Much depends on how DTH shapes up," replied Jain. "There are still various aspects about the conditions in which DTH will operate that lead to its growth in the industry."
The progress of the medium, however, cannot be understood unless it is measured to throw details on the kind of audience and their preferences. TAM Media Research that provides such details for the C&S platform opines that there is still time for that for DTH.
Phadnis informed, "There are various points to take into consideration before that. The DTH household base has to become large enough to measure. Numbers and penetration flow and other details like how are the DTH households spread out or concentrated, clarity on how these players will market their services, their pricing and whether boxes would be rented or bought - all have to be in place before DTH can be measured."
Evidently there is time for that. The players are nonetheless excited. The present DTH service, Dish TV from Zee expresses that more players will only grow the market, "There is space for multiple DTH players in the Indian market," said Dish TV spokesperson.
Exactly what Vikram Kaushik, CEO, Space TV, said, "India is a large enough market for multiple DTH players and even cable to co-exist."
Space TV plans to launch by the end of 2005. Reiterating the point Phadnis made about reaching the unreachable, Kaushik divulged, "We will introduce a nationwide DTH service that would allow it to reach every Indian home, however remote it may be. Our service will be competitively priced and considering this is an evolving industry, pricing and content will be decided closer to launch."
While Dish TV spokesperson said that Dish TV has two lakh subscribers, Kaushik informed that Space TV is expecting a positive response as well. "We believe the service will immensely enhance the choices of viewers looking for the best of pay television services in the country," he said.
The eventual launch of the more DTH services will entail questions that will decide the fate of the platform in India. What kind of channels will the different services offer? Would any service have exclusive channels? If DTH providers have options of all the channels, what will be their USP? Pricing regulation, services, call centres, delivery time, quality of signals - the list of probable DTH drivers is endless.
What nonetheless cannot be denied is that at an overall TV industry level, the universe comprising of viewers, advertisers and more player will grow with the advent of DTH, as it has in every market internationally.