India’s major DTH broadcasters have declared their channel lists and prices under TRAI’s new tariff rules, and an analysis of the same reveals that Tata Sky continues to be undisputed king of HD Channels in India, followed closely by Airtel Digital and Sun Direct.
Dish TV and D2h, meanwhile, have slightly less comprehensive lists of HD channels, especially for those looking for English-speaking and South Indian content.
According to the data disclosed to TRAI, there are 95 HD channels on various DTH platforms in India, and Tata Sky, the largest provider of HD content in India, offers 92 of them, thanks in part to some unexpected good luck on the satellite front.
The three channels missing on Tata Sky are Jeet HD, the Hindi entertainment channel from Discovery; FYI TV18 HD, the lifestyle channel from A+E Networks & TV18 and Gemini Music HD, the Telugu music channel from the Sun TV group.
The HD content can be broadly divided into two — pan-India English and international content including sports — and regional channels.
ENGLISH & SPORTS
Out of the 95 channels, 44 belong to the category of English+Sports, which means that they have a pan-India appeal.
Add the four HD kids channels, and you get 48 channels that have an appeal across the language markets in India, with the remaining 47 channels appealing to specific markets such as Marathi, Hindi, Tamil and so on.
Out of these 48 pan-India channels, 29 belong to the genre of English entertainment, movie and reality-based programming channels. These include infotainment channels, travel and lifestyle channels.
This bunch of 29 channels appeal to urban middle class Indians, who may not be interested in sports content.
In this segment, both Tata Sky and Sun Direct are tied with 28 channels each (see chart at the bottom).
Out of the 29, Tata Sky is missing FYI TV18 HD, Sun Direct is missing Nat Geo People HD.
As such, Sun Direct is as good as, if not better than, Tata Sky for audiences primarily interested in English language HD content in India.
However, the market leader has an advantage over Sun Direct in all other segments and genres.
In case of sports channels, for example, Sun Direct offers 9 out of the 10 HD sports channels in India as it does not have Sony Ten 3 HD.
Similarly, Sun Direct, which is focused on the South Indian market, also does not offer the Hindi version of Star Sports HD 1, though that is unlikely to perturb non-Hindi-speaking sports fans.
The third contender in the English and Sports market, according to the TRAI lists, is Airtel Digital, the DTH service from Bharti Airtel.
Airtel Digital is just as strong as Tata Sky and Sun Direct in terms of English Movie channels (10), and English entertainment channels (6), but falls well behind when it comes to HD reality and infotainment offering.
Overall, there are 11 channels that offer reality-based programs in India, including travel, documentaries and so on.
Both Sun Direct and Tata Sky offer 10 of these, while Airtel Digital offers only seven.
Among the ones missing in Airtel Digital’s HD packs are Nat Geo People, Nat Geo Wild, Travel XP and FYI TV18.
In case of sports, Tata Sky, as discussed, is the only one to offer all 10 English language sports channels.
Airtel Digital offers all 10 English-language HD sports channels except DSport, while Sun Direct offers all English language HD sports channels except Sony Ten 3.
As Dish TV and D2h are concerned, spectrum constraints and positioning have prevented them from offering as robust an HD line up of English and sports channels as the other three players in the market.
Dish, for example, is missing two of the ten English movie channels, while D2h is missing three. In the English entertainment segment, Dish offers all six HD channels, while D2h is missing one.
In reality HD channels, Dish is missing two, while D2h is missing three.
In non-regional sports channels, Dish is missing two, while D2h is missing three.
AIRTEL TOPS HINDI ENTERTAINMENT
As far as Hindi HD channels are concerned, Airtel Digital, which was relegated to third place in English content, emerges as the No.1, scoring 15 out of 15.
Tata Sky, the overall No.1, is relegated to second place because it doesn’t have Jeet HD, which takes its channel count in 14 in the Hindi entertainment and movies segment.
Dish TV is at No. 3 with 13 out of 15, while D2h is at No.4 with 12 out of 15.
REGIONAL HD CHANNELS
Besides Hindi, most no other language market has double digit HD channels, even though some of the English channels, such as Discovery HD World, History TV18 and National Geographic, have multiple audios that essentially convert them into regional channels.
As far as native channels are concerned, the highest number of HD content among non-Hindi languages can be found in the Telugu market.
A total of 8 channels are on offer in the Telugu market. Here, there is a tie between Tata Sky and Sun Direct, both of which have 7 channels each.
Airtel follows with 6 channels, while D2h and Dish TV have only 3 each.
In the Tamil market, Tata Sky leads by offering all six channels, followed by Airtel with five and Sun and D2h with four each.
HD PACKS GET EXPENSIVE
One of the fallouts of the new tariff regime introduced by the TRAI is that the power of packaging has shifted to broadcasting companies, aka channel owners from DTH providers.
However, channel owners are more interested in pushing as many of their channels into customer premises as possible, rather than increasing consumer choice.
As a result, broadcasters have opted to ‘bundle’ or tie-up their premium and sought-after channels with the so-called laggard channels.
In other words, to effectively purchase the sought-after channel, one has to also purchase a raft of channels that one may not be interested in.
This is especially true in case of sports channels, most of which are not available at reasonable cost unless the customer also buys entertainment channels, movie channels and so on.
This has made it much more difficult and expensive for customers under the new TRAI regime to subscribe to only one or two genres of HD channels, like English movies or Sports.
On the 95 HD channels, only around 40 are priced at Rs 12 or less, and the remaining 55 are priced in the Rs 15-19 range, or about Rs 17-22 after tax.
A customer who buys 30 HD channels one-by-one would end up shelling out over Rs 600 in terms of the pay channel costs, taxes and network fee.
Out of the 95 channels, only one — Mazhavil Manorama HD — is free to air, while six — including MTV Beats, Baby TV, Nat Geo Music, Nat Geo People, Fox Life HD and CNBC Prime — are priced at Rs 1 each.
Most of the English movie channels in HD are priced in the Rs 12-22 range, including taxes, while most of the Hindi and regional entertainment channels are priced at Rs 22.42 including tax.
It is believed that poor demand, or regulatory action, could force broadcasters to reduce their rates going forward.