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Quick five with Sun Direct’s R Mahesh Kumar

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Quick five with Sun Direct’s R Mahesh Kumar

R Mahesh Kumar is the CEO of Sun Direct, one of the major DTH players in the country. He is responsible for consumer proposition for customers and building the Sun brand.

In conversation with exchange4media, Kumar elaborates on the second phase of digitisation as well as the challenges and opportunities for DTH players in a post digitisation scenario.

With the stage set for Phase II of digitisation, do you see digital cable overtaking DTH in India?
Digitisation has got off to a good start in the first phase and this augurs well for Phase II. Given the presence of relatively more organised cable networks in the major metros, DTH had a pretty strong contender in cable. However, as the subsequent phases fan out into the smaller metros and towns, cable does not seem as well organised. This is not to say that there won’t be significant cable players who will retain their share of customers. But we don’t feel this would go so far as to overtake. Also remember, the process lasts four phases and the real challenges for scale and size come up in the latter phases. So, if you take a holistic view, DTH will still be playing a lead role in the TV distribution space in India.

What are the challenges and opportunities for DTH players in a post digitisation broadcast scenario? What can DTH players do to strengthen their base?
The real challenges are going to be in identifying the consumer segments that each of us is most suited to address. And if done right, this will also be the greatest opportunity. For instance, the regional South consumer will find it hard to locate an alternative to Sun Direct - be it in terms of content, price, access to exclusive content or friendly packaging. And this strength extends across High Definition services too. This does not even take into account the ubiquitous nature of the Sun brand in the South. In our opinion, clarifying our positioning and segments will be the most important activity towards strengthening our base.

The other important thing is to differentiate from the existing analogue services that the consumer is availing of. We need to be able to offer a credible and affordable reason to switch to digital. Just relying on legislation to force the consumer won’t take us too far.

Do you think that with digitisation the 'differentiation' advantage of different DTH operators gets muted? Do we see the battle shift to a price platform?
Not at all, there are many aspects of the service that are put to the test. Quality of the TV viewing experience is but one of them. Need for servicing, the frequency of that need and the nature of service delivered is going to be a big factor too. Availability and relevance of differentiated content and its price is another. Our Cinema Club service, for instance, is a feature no one else in cable or DTH can offer and it is priced extremely reasonably for an ad-free movie service. So, it’s no wonder that it is one of the most popular services on digital platforms today.

So, yes, there are many aspects that can help differentiate your brand. We don’t see price as a differentiator and it cannot be. It is really what value you bring at that price that differentiates. For every aspect above, you could apply price as the litmus test.

How is Sun Direct strategising to further tap the South India market?
I think our strategy should be evident in our view towards differentiation stated above. We have a dominant share of the South market today and we shall continue doing the same things that have got us here – provide a great mix of content and service that demonstrates our deep understanding of the South consumer, at prices that show a deep understanding of their value system.

How has Sun Direct’s performance been on the ARPU front? How much pressure is subscriber acquisition putting on ARPUs?
We are pretty satisfied with our ARPU trend, especially since the launch of our exclusive services and value-added packs. Subscriber acquisition is a one-time affair and as such can be delinked from ARPUs. And now with a free view period between two and four months, the effect on ARPU has been reduced. The challenge is only when you acquire a customer whose price sensitivity you are unable to address with your existing products and have to drop your subscription prices. Fortunately, we have never gone down that road.

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