Simplifying choice a complex task for DTH viewers, providers

Chennai | Updated on January 24, 2011 Published on January 24, 2011

Ms Bamini Visagan, a homemaker in Chennai, has still not finalised the list of TV channels her five-member family wants to watch. In the last three days since she decided to go in for the a la carte offer from her DTH service provider, she says every day the list either sheds or adds two-three channels. Only her children are sure of what they want: The complete genre of kids' channels. The others in the family are yet to decide what each one wants to watch. “I'm really finding it difficult to finalise the channels within my planned budget of Rs 180-200 a month. Now, I'm literally scratching my head,” she says.

Even as most DTH operators roll out the option for subscribers to choose and pay for the channels of their choice, many subscribers, like Ms Visagan, are now hard put to decide whether choosing their own channels or a package the service provider offers would be more economical for them. From a list of 150-200 channels, it will certainly be a tough task to pick and choose a few. “People will tend to be confused. They would rather choose one of our basic packs and add a couple of channels they want in addition, at best,” says Mr Tony D'Silva, CEO, Sun Direct.

Last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) asked all DTH service providers to offer consumers the choice of paying only for channels they want to watch on an a la carte basis. Complying with this, almost all DTH players have come out with such an offer; however, there is a base charge of Rs 150 and a minimum lock-in period of three months for channels of choice. If subscribers want to change channels, they can do so only after this lock-in period.

Refraining to comment on consumers' feedback on this offer, saying “it is too early,” Mr Vikram Mehra, Chief Marketing Officer, Tata Sky, says the idea behind this offer is to cover both ends of the subscriber spectrum. For some, convenience is very important and they would prefer readymade packs, while others want complete control and want to make their own pack. “The underlying philosophy is that the subscriber and not the service provider should decide what's good for the subscriber.”

Mr Ajai Puri, CEO (DTH business), Bharti Airtel, says, “Our market insight is that subscribers prefer to choose channels more by genre than on an individual basis.” According to Mr Umesh Rao, Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, Reliance Big TV, in general it does not make economic sense for subscribers to go in for an a la carte offering, though it gives them the freedom and flexibility to handpick channels.

“Our basic value pack is priced at Rs 110 (with taxes). If you choose a couple of channels above this, for, say, Rs 40-50, one will get more channels for almost the same amount (of Rs 150, the base rate for the a la carte offer),” says Mr D'Silva of Sun Direct. It launched this offer late last year. To a question on subscribers' response, he said only a “very insignificant percentage of our subscribers” have chosen that. Will the a la carte offer pull the ARPU (average revenue per user) down? As the majority of DTH service providers have priced their basic packs way below Rs 150, they say their ARPU will only go up if a good number of subscribers choose to make their own plans.

Complex exercise

Asked what DTH operators need to do at the back end to monitor what will be a complex exercise, Tata Sky's Mr Mehra says it requires advanced CRM and billing solutions on the part of the service provider. “Our motto was not only to launch ‘make my pack' but also make it very simple for subscribers to take it,” he adds. However, all channels on an a la carte basis is not a common functionality on international DTH platforms, he points out.

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Published on January 24, 2011
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