Dish TV, the oldest Direct-To-Home satellite transmission service in India, is preparing to improve its line-up on channels in a bid to retain market share in the face in rising competition.
The company, which has two separate beams — one for South India and one for the rest of the country — has started removing South Indian channels from its rest-of-India service.
This is expected to be a prelude to a wider juggling of channels that will see several new HD and standard definition channels added on both South Indian and Rest-of-India beams of the DTH provider.
Dish TV originally had only one beam — transmitted from the NSS 6 satellite placed over 95 degree east longitude. It then merged with Videocon D2h two years ago, which gave it access to a second beam from a satellite located over 88 degree east longitude.
However, since it was nearly impossible to catch both beams on a single dish antenna, there was no possibility of merging the two beams to take advantage of the increased bandwidth and capacity.
Instead, it was decided that the D2h beam would be used to carry channels of interest to a South Indian audience, while the Dish TV beam would be used to cater to the rest-of-India audience.
This would free up around 25-30% of the capacity of these two beams as most of the South Indian channels could be removed from the RoI beam, while many of the non-south channels can be removed from the D2h beam.
However, given that many South Indians already had their dish antenna pointed in the direction of the RoI beam and many rest-of-India customers have their antenna pointed in the D2h direction, this policy could not be implemented immediately.
Instead, South Indian customers with antennas pointed towards the RoI beam and RoI customers pointed towards the South Indian beam were give an option to request a free dish re-alignment if they wanted to watch more channels tailored to their interest. Over the last two years, a significant section of such misaligned dish antennas have been realigned to the correct direction.
Yet, it is only in the last few days that Dish TV has started aggressively removing channels that don’t match the geographic target.
Over the past several days, for example, Tamil channels such as Polimer, Puthiya Thalamurai, KTV HD, Jayam Max, Sun Music HD, Mega TV, Thanthi TV and Sun News have been removed from the RoI beam. Similarly, Kannada channel Colors Kannada HD and Telugu channel ETV HD too have been removed from the RoI beam.
According to sources, more such removals can be expected in the coming days, and the space vacated by these channels will be used to add channels that are more relevant to a rest-of-India audience, such as English HD channels.
Both beams of Dish TV are lagging behind competitors such as Tata Sky, Airtel Digital and even Sun Direct as far as channel selection — especially HD channel selection — is concerned.
For example, the RoI beam of Dish TV has only 69 HD channels, while Tata Sky has 91 and Airtel Digital has 86. Even a South-focused service such as Sun Direct has 75 HD channels.
The situation is even worse for the South Indian beam (formerly the D2h beam).
On this beam, Dish TV has only 64 HD channels to compete against Sun Direct’s 75 HD channels.
The situation is especially bad in certain key genres, like English movies — where Dish TV South has just 5 HD channels compared to 10 on Sun Direct — and Infotainment, where Dish TV South has only 6 HD channels compared to 10 on Sun Direct.
Similarly, Sun Direct has 7 Telugu HD channels, while Dish TV South has just 4.
CHANGING MARKET CONDITIONS
Further impetus came from changing market conditions.
Dish TV traditionally depended on lower prices to compete against players like Tata Sky and Airtel.
However, new regulatory changes have taken the pricing power away from the platforms and delivered it into the hands of the channels themselves.
As a result, the prices are more or less similar across platforms, and Dish TV is fast losing its key strength. This is now forcing Dish TV to up its content game and deliver more channels that are of interest to its audience.
The second reason for the shuffling of channels is a new law that restricts the amount that DTH players like Dish TV can charge from channels in lieu of providing them space on their networks.
Under the new TRAI tariff guidelines that came into effect on March 1, DTH and cable providers can only charge a maximum of Rs 4 lakh per channel for providing space on their network, while earlier there was no such limit.
This means that it makes far less sense for Dish TV to carry a South Indian channel on its Rest of Inda beam now, since such a channel is unlikely to generate much money either by way of subscription charges from customers or by way of carriage fees from the channels themselves.
What, however, remains to be seen is whether Dish TV can get its act together in time, and prevent a massive outflow of customers to rival networks and new threats like IPTV, and key to the new strategy will be an increase in the number of HD channels.