Sun Direct, the Chennai-based direct-to-home satellite TV service, has started giving free access to nearly all Sun Group channels to anyone who activates the base packs designed by the DTH company.
The base packs designed by Sun Direct — called DPO packs — start at Rs 200 per month, including tax, for the Tamil market, and Rs 225 per month for the Telugu market. For Malayalam and Kannada markets, DPO packs start at around Rs 210 per month, including tax.
Anyone who activates these DPO channels gets free access to 25-30 Sun Group channels, which would otherwise cost about Rs 80-90 per month.
These channels include KTV, Sun TV and Sun Music in Tamil, Malayalam channels like Surya, Surya Music and Kochu TV, Sun Bangla, Sun Marathi, Kannada channels like Udaya TV and Udaya Movies, and Telugu channels like Gemini TV, Gemini Movies.
Many of these channels, such as Sun TV, are market leaders, and are priced at Rs 19 per month.
In addition to these free Sun group channels, even the cheapest DPO package will come with nearly all the popular pay channels in that market, including from the likes of Star India and Colors. One exception is the Zee Group, whose channels are found only in second tier (DPO-2) packs.
For example, the Malayalam DPO 1 pack, priced at Rs 210 per month, comes with Star Value Pack Malayalam, which costs Rs 46 per month, and TV18 Budget pack, which otherwise costs Rs 9.44 per month.
Together, the price of these two bundled packs — Star Value Pack and TV18 Budget — comes to Rs 56 per month. This is added to the monthly network fee of Rs 154 to arrive at Rs 210 — the price of the DPO-1 pack.
In other words, the nearly 25 Sun Group channels that are also included in the DPO 1 pack come absolutely free of charge.
In addition, the customer can activate any other a-la carte channel or broadcaster pack in addition to those in this pack.
It should, however, be kept in mind that only the standard definition versions of Sun’s channels are being given free with DPO packs.
Though there are DPO packs that also come with Sun Groups’ 8 HD channels, these start at around Rs 285 per month, indicating that Sun Direct is charging around Rs 50 for these 8 channels.
The move by the Sun Group to make its channels free for those activating its base-packs on Sun Direct is primarily an attempt to maintain the subscriber base of its DTH service, but will also help increase the viewership of the group channels as well.
Sun Direct is the weakest of the six major DTH platforms in the country and is primarily found in South India.
A large chunk of its subscribers come from the Tamil Nadu market, where cable TV rates are the lowest in India.
The biggest cable network in Tamil Nadu, state government-backed Arasu, for example charges a network fee of just Rs 40 per month, while almost everywhere in India, cable and DTH operators charge Rs 154 per month as their network charges.
Arasu’s offerings are, in fact, cheaper than that of Sun Direct, while containing a similar number of channels.
While Sun Direct charges Rs 200 per month for its basic Tamil DPO pack that contains almost all the popular Tamil channels, Arasu charges only Rs 154 per month.
The only key difference is that while Arasu’s pack focuses primarily on Tamil channels, Sun Direct’s Rs 200 pack contains all the major channels of Sun Group across all languages, including Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Bangla.
In addition to being cheaper, Arasu also provides two extra broadcaster packages that are not found in the Rs 200 base pack from Sun Direct — Zee Prime Pack, whose original price is Rs 10, and Discovery Kids Infotainment pack, which is usually priced at Rs 6.
The other bundles, such as Jaya TV pack, Colors pack and Star Value pack, are found in both.
The move to bundle in-house channels for free is not entirely unexpected, given than Sun Direct has traditionally competed on price instead of channel selection to beat back competition from bigger rivals like Airtel Digital and Tata Sky.
However, with prices being now determined by channel owners instead of DTH providers, Sun Direct has lost its major selling point.
On top of that, Sun Direct suffers from a poorer line-up of channels, though it overcomes this handicap by focusing only on certain language markets.
Sun Direct has only around 55-60% of the number of channels offered by a player like Tata Sky. Without a pricing difference to set the two apart, it risked being pushed to a corner by heavyweights like Tata Sky and Airtel Digital.
By offering in-house channels for free, Sun Direct has managed to offer all the basic channels required by the majority of its customer base within the Rs 200-220 price range. A similar bunch of channels would cost Rs 250-270 on platforms like Tata Sky and Airtel Digital.
Sun Direct’s decision to bundle all channels — irrespective of language — with all its DPO packs will also make life easier for South Indian viewers, who often watch programs from their adjacent states as well.