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Tata Sky says it has made rapid strides in the direct to home digital TV space.

Vikram Kaushik
Vikram Kaushik

Vikram Kaushik, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Tata Sky Ltd, says his company has made swift strides in the direct to home digital TV space. It has leased 12 ku band transponders on ISRO's satellite INSAT 4A, and has invested in technology to provide a new dimension to India's growing TV market, pay TV, he says, in a chat with eWorld. Excerpts.

Tata Sky has hit the half-a-million subscriber-mark in a short time. Will the numbers possibly grow much faster hereon? Half-a-million subscribers was achieved in a record time of six months, which is the fastest growth of any DTH platform in the world. Our endeavour is to touch the one-million-mark within one year of operation. One of the strongest contributors to the speedy growth is the positive word-of-mouth for the service from our existing subscribers.

In addition to customer service, the increasing awareness of the benefits offered by DTH will help us grow faster in the days to come.

We see strong progress in the digitalisation of television in India and an equally fast adoption of new technologies such as DTH. If the Government mandates CAS (conditional access system), the DTH industry will reach the skies.

Tata Sky has invested heavily in technology for its pan-India roll out, how do you handle this large infrastructure?

We have made large investments in technology in order to ensure a world-class television viewing experience for our subscribers. We have selected leading vendors as our technology partners.

The uplink centre has been designed in consultation with GSI, global leaders in DTH uplinks. Currently, we have a fully redundant uplink facility as part of our disaster management plan.

This facility is capable of uplinking to four satellites and has room to expand to over 500 channels if required.

Tata Sky has partnered with NDS, provider of technology solutions for pay television. The NDS VideoGuard conditional access solution provides superior broadcast security and enables Tata Sky to offer multiple programming and pricing packages.

Siebel, a leader in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, was selected to support operations across the areas of call centre and field service operations, customer order management and product configuration.

SAP (ERP) application suite has been selected to support the company's materials management, sales and distribution, finance and control and human resources requirements.

Tata Sky has partnered with Thomson and Humax, world leaders in digital broadcast terminology, for building top-of-the-line digicomps, customised specifically for the Indian markets. This enables Tata Sky to deliver multiple programming, pricing packages and interactive services to its customers.

For a consumer service like this, logistics must be a big issue?

Tata Sky has an intensive distribution set-up. We are already retailing from more than 4,182 towns with a network of over 23,820 dealers. Our hardware and prepaid recharge vouchers are available through popular consumer electronic stores and online.

We are using technology extensively to provide maximum convenience to subscribers. Shortly, our subscribers will be able to pay their monthly subscriptions through SMS and our Web site, thereby providing options beyond buying of paper vouchers.

How do you handle the large data in the case of pay services and video-on- demand services?

We use Tandberg, global leaders in DTH encoders, to compress data.

Billing must be a tricky issue, how is this addressed?

Tata Sky has chosen Comverse's Kenan FX billing software to support billing for all residential, institutional and commercial customers. The Kenan software has been enhanced specifically for Tata Sky, to support pre-paid billing capability that provides subscribers with the convenience of paying as required.

Similar to the prepaid mobile phone cards, our recharge cards are available in leading consumer electronic stores across the country. We offer consumers the convenience of checking their subscription details (balance and usage) through monthly e-mail statements, by calling our helpline and even on their own television sets through on-screen messages (alerts).

How do you manage the enterprise wide technology?

Tata Sky has selected Sun Microsystems to provide the technology infrastructure, which helps the company deliver high-level service standards for its Satellite Television service. The servers ensure maximum up-time, fault recovery and load management. Sun has also provided Tata Sky with installation, engineering expertise and support.

How do you plan to compete with CAS and IPTV?

DTH is a proven technology and has performed extremely well in large countries such as the UK, the US, Italy, Brazil and Australia owing to its ability to provide entertainment to even the remotest part of the country.

In India too, DTH can reach out to every part of the country, whether it is an isolated hilltop or a densely populated city. India is a large enough market for multiple players to survive.

The success or failure of any service, whether existing or planned, depends on the quality of customer service and value for money that it provides to consumers.

We believe that our television offering provides the best value proposition in terms of product functionality and customer service at a very competitive price.

Customer service differentiates one service provider from another. How do you handle this for a large distributed network?

Tata Sky takes direct responsibility for installing and servicing the hardware at every subscriber's home, thereby ensuring the highest levels of customer service.

We have engaged a field force of over 3,000 engineers to handle customer problems and queries.

The field engineers are complemented by three high-end 24x7 call centres in Pune, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.

Keeping India's diversity in mind, customer associates at the call centres have been trained to address customer queries in 11 languages.

Also, a dedicated team located in Bangalore handles subscriber database management, ensuring accuracy and quality of documents. This team strives to provide support to subscribers and call centres for all requests and escalations to ensure timely resolution and prompt service.

vrishi@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 28, 2007)
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