Direct-to-home service provider Tata Sky Ltd will invest over Rs 1,000 crore to upgrade technology and replace over six million set-top boxes with its subscribers. Tata Sky, a joint venture between the Tatas and the UK-based British Sky Broadcasting Group, is moving to an advanced content compression technology - MPEG 4 from MPEG 2. This will enable Tata Sky beam more channels from the same bandwidth. It currently beams 200 standard definition and high definition channels from its 12 Ku-band transponders on INSAT-4A satellite.
To facilitate the reception of TV channels, subscribers need to have the MPEG-4 set-top box. Though Tata Sky has been installing MPEG-4 since mid-2010, previously it had installed the old technology MPEG-2 boxes at homes. Now, the company has to replace almost 6 million such set-top boxes with new ones, out of a total of over 11.5 million set-top boxes.
“We are in the process of doing it, and will replace all the six million boxes in the next one year,” said Harit Nagpal, Managing Director, Tata Sky Ltd.
Being one of the early movers in the DTH space, Tata Sky and Dish TV had to use MPEG-2 compression technology as MPEG-4 was developed later. Following the shift to MPEG 4, it can transmit close 100 more standard definition channels. “We are planning to include a spate of Tamil and Malayalam channels, besides various other language channels. This would enable us to plug the demand-supply gap in Tamil Nadu and Kerala markets in a big way,” says Nagpal.
At present, a majority of DTH players have anywhere between 12 and 15 transponders on different satellites (except Dish TV, which acquired six transponders over two years ago to take its total to 18).
Even the best of compression technology (MPEG 4) can squeeze in 25 standard definition (SD) channels to a transponder, and hence can offer only 200-350 channels. And each high definition (HD) channel will consume bandwidth capacity of almost three standard definition channels.
While there are over 800 satellite channels available in India, and many SD channels are getting converted into HD channels, DTH players have to juggle with regional and national channels to retain their subscriber base. Also these players cannot have capacities in two different satellites in different directions, as dish alignment would be a problem.
Tata Sons hold a 60 per cent stake in Tata Sky with British Sky Broadcasting (of Star TV group) 30 per cent and Temasek Holdings, owned by the Singapore Government, has 10 per cent stake.