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DTH players, MSOs spar over building brand preference

20-February-2012
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DTH players, MSOs spar over building brand preference

With the deadline for the first phase of digital cable conversion round the corner (June 2012 for four top metros) there is a major battle brewing between Cable MSOs (Multi System Operators) and DTH players to build brand preference. (The top five Cable MSOs are – Hathway, DEN Networks, Incable, Digicable andWWIL.)

While MSOs have to build their brand awareness along with the task of educating LCOs (Local Cable Operators) and consumers about the digital shift, DTH operators want to take this opportunity to grab high-ARPU customers and increase the platform’s reach in larger TAM meter markets. Media experts see advertising spends in the sector to almost double in the coming four months’ time. Annual advertising spends of just DTH players are estimated to be around Rs 600-650 crore. According to industry sources, top three cable operators have already earmarked around Rs 40-50 crore for the period from January to June 2012 for their brand building exercise.

“Given the price wars and combo offerings by cable operators (like HD + DVR boxes), the cable operators may be more aggressive compared to the DTH players. The current DTH category media spends will increase and may just about double in the coming months. And in terms of messaging, it will be about creating a differentiation – be it price advantage, technology, value added services or product packaging innovations,” said Vanita Keswani, COO, Madison Media Sigma.

DEN Networks recently released a television commercial comparing itself with DTH and claiming that even though the picture quality is the same you can save money with DEN digital cable. Creative agency for the campaign is Bates 141, while media agency on board is Madison. In the beginning of this year, DEN Networks and Hathway Cable and Datacom launched a joint media campaign beginning with Delhi, informing consumers about the need to install set-top boxes by June 30 as mandated by the Government. As per initial estimates, the two companies were expected to spend Rs 20 crore on the campaign.

Hathway Cable has started informing consumers through paper inserts, emailers, outdoor campaigns and print ads in leading newspapers, trade magazines and websites. “We have earmarked Rs 250 million for marketing,” informed K Jayaraman MD & CEO Hathway Cable & Datacom Ltd. Hathway estimates its subscriber universe to be 1.5 million (including second TV) in Mumbai and Delhi. The company is currently managing its advertising communication in-house and has recently identified and advertising agency which is working on its ad campaign.

Large scale ad campaigns by other MSOs, which include Incable, Digicable and WWIL, are also expected to be out soon. Practical challenges for Cable MSOs is transitioning from a B2B to a B2C business, which will require a lot of logistical and backend customer support system. “If 70 lakh homes are suddenly switched off overnight, there will be a scramble from a logistical perspective, something that the entire industry has to be prepared to handle, not only for digital, but cable operators also,” said RC Venkatesh, Chief Executive Officer, DishTV. According to an I&B Ministry press statement, service providers in the cable industry have already placed an order of 8.79 million set top boxes under the first phase of digitisation.

With cable operators raising their voice, there is no reason for DTH players to stay quiet. The advantage that DTH brands have is that in the past three to four years they have created awareness about the category and have managed to reach around 42 million homes in a comparatively short time. Now, with more options available to the consumers, they will have to strengthen their unique positioning. Clearly, cable operators can offer similar services at a lower price point and hence, DTH players will have to look at various VAS for their positioning. Subsidised HD offerings will also act as a key differentiator for DTH players as cable has yet to roll out HD services (with the notable exceptions of Hathway and Digicable).

DishTV launched a campaign – ‘Dish sawaar hai’ – about three weeks ago another new positioning for the brand. Penned by Prasoon Joshi, Executive Chairman and CEO, McCann Worldgroup India, the idea of the commercial is to position DishTV as a brand which enables the immersed passionate viewer to keep his passion alive. The company will be spending around Rs 30 crore on the campaign which is going to be on air for about 8-10 weeks. Dish TV’s annual marketing budget is around Rs 100-120 crores. Tata Sky is also reportedly planning to launch an advertising campaign to apprise potential customers.

What is interesting to note is that Reliance Broadcast too launched a campaign recently with the tagline ‘Choose your set-top box wisely’, wherein the company talks about its various content offering along with the branding of platforms that it is available on. According to Vishal Rally, Business Head, Big CBS Networks Ltd, the real differentiation that was going to emerge amongst these platforms was actually content. “With digitisation, every consumer will have a choice to pick and chose content. With this campaign we wanted to empower consumers around the information of digitisation and our variety of content. It is an operator agnostic campaign. It is not aimed to promote any one particular operator, but the entire industry at large,” he said. The broadcaster will be spending around Rs 5 crore across 26 weeks, which will be present across all Reliance Broadcast Media platforms.

There are some brands who do not wish to be part of the current noise that is being created by brands and will come in during the last 45 days before the cable shutdown. “I think participating and creating confusion in messaging right now only postpones consumer’s decision. Indians have a tendency to leave decisions and work till the last minute and even for digitisation, we believe actual intent to go for a digital STB would be around the last 30 days. If you have limited budget, you’d rather spend it when people are serious about shifting to digital and not add to the chaos right now,” said the marketing officer of a DTH brand. Keeping this in mind, most of the momentum for shifting to digital will start building up during IPL and will start peaking around June 15 and carry on till July 15 or 20.

A category where there is heightened communication and too many operators, the points of differentiation reduce. We have seen that happen in the telecom space. Is the DTH industry also going in the same direction?

 

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