With the Dec 29 deadline for the introduction of new cable and DTH plans approaching, operators are finalizing their strategy to deal with the regulatory change as smoothly as possible.
According to industry sources, the strategy of the DTH and cable operators will be built around offering three primary plans — a basic pack, a premium plan and a premium HD offering.
BASIC TIER – ‘FREE + CHEAP’
The first type of these will be the ‘free & cheap’ channel package, which will be priced at around Rs 150-200 by most cable players.
Cable veterans expect that more than half of all the cable and satellite subscribers in the country will ultimately be shifted to these packs.
This ‘basic pack’ will be made out of ‘free’ channels like B4U, Dabang and PTC, supplemented by the ‘1-rupee-channels’ from big broadcasters like Star, Zee and Sony.
Examples of ‘1 rupee channels’ that will be included in the basic tier are Zee Anmol, Zee Action, Sony PAL, Sony WAH, Rishtey, Movies OK, Star Utsav, Star Utsav Movies, Discovery Jeet, Zee Action, Big Magic and so on.
Even though this pack may not have a very strong line-up of English language channels, it would nevertheless still include some like Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo.
Almost all news channels will also be included in this basic tier, including Zee News, Zee Business, WION, CNBC Awaz, CNN News18, CNN International, India Today, Republic TV, Aaj Tak, Asianet News, Sun News, Kalaignar TV and so on. A notable exception is likely to be Times Now.
Most of the non-Hindi, regional channels too will be available on this tier.
The basic pack will also have sports channels, including Star Sports First, Star Sports 3 and DSport, all of which are priced in the range of Rs 1-4 per month.
The second offering will be a premium plan, which will be priced at Rs 300-350 for the standard definition version and Rs 450-550 per month for the HD version.
This premium package will contain practically all channels relevant to the subscriber’s particular language market. Once the customer activates this premium pack, the only unavailable channels will be those that belong to other regional languages.
Examples of such premium channels include Star Plus, Zee, Zee Cinema, Colors, Sony, &TV, SET Max, Star Movies, History TV18, Star World, &Flix and so on.
These premium packs would largely resemble some of the expensive packs offered by cable and DTH operators in the market today.
One key aspect of such packs is that some of the non-relevant regional language channels may still be unavailable. For example, someone who subscribes to the premium pack in a Hindi-speaking state will not get access to premium South Indian channels like Sun TV and Asianet Movies.
To get these channels, customers will either have to switch to the Tamil or Malayalam version of the pack, or add these channels one-by-one by paying Rs 19 extra per channel.
This limitation will not apply in cosmopolitan areas of mega cities or in border regions. For example, cable operators serving a South Indian dominated area of Mumbai would include premium South Indian channels in their packs as well, in addition to the Marathi and Hindi channels.
At first glance, some of these packages may look ‘illegal’ under the new rules as cable and DTH providers are prohibited from offering free and pay channels as part of the same package.
However, this would be addressed by cable operators by showing that their customers are actually subscribed to two different packs at the back-end — one comprising free channels relevant to that language market, and the other containing only the pay channels.
As far as the consumer is concerned, pointed out a cable industry official, he would get all the channels without having to do any manual configuration and without having to call up the help desk.
Secondly, customers who are currently subscribed to plans costing Rs 350 and above would be migrated to the premium pack, including HD for those who are currently on HD plans.
At the back end, these premium customers too would be shown as subscribing to two plans — one for free or FTA channels, one for all the other channels.
DEATH OF THEMATIC PLANS
This emerging structure suggests that the death of thematic plans organized around specific genres like movies, reality, music, entertainment, sports and so on.
This is primarily because the platform providers like cable operators have more or less lost their power to create customized channel packs, which has been transferred to broadcasters.
However, broadcasters are primarily interested in pushing as many of their channels to as many homes as possible, and they believe that the best way to do this would be to offer only two types of packages — a basic one and a premium one, and by avoiding thematic offerings.
The biggest casualty of this strategy will be those who are interested only in one or two genres like movies or reality and those who own multiple TVs.
For example, someone may want only English and international HD channels on his bedroom TV, while his living room TV may be primarily used for watching Hindi HD content.
Under the tariff structure that exists now, this could be achieved by activating the relevant genre packs on each connection, and this could be done at a cost of around Rs 250 per TV.
However, under the new system that will come into effect from December 29, the consumer will have no choice but to activate the entire premium HD offering on both TVs — which will cost between 1,000-1,200 per month in all — or go for the A-la Carte option, which too would cost around Rs 700-800 in all at current prices.
It should also be noted that consumers can also create their own plans by adding the packs of each broadcaster — like Star, Zee, Sony, Network18, Disney, Discovery and so on — manually.
However, the industry expects that only a tiny fraction of users — especially on cable — are likely to opt for this method. Most are likely to go with one of the three options presented by the platform provider.
Eventually, DTH and cable providers are expected get back their ability to form genre-based packs if the Supreme Court agrees with a TRAI petition seeking to stop broadcasters from making A-la Carte offerings prohibitively expensive.
The petition will be taken up by the court towards the end of this month, and is expected to be disposed off within a month.
Alternatively, broadcasters may realize that it is better to give customers what they want, and may decide to start offering thematic plans as well in the future. This is more likely to happen if they see that consumers are not buying their premium packs, and are instead using the ‘free and cheap’ packs provided by cable and DTH operators.