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DTH bright on growth, but will profits rise?

August 12, 2009 11:34 IST
It's almost a re-run of the telecom story. The Direct-to-Home (DTH) sector is set for a scorching pace of growth in subscriber additions, on the back of aggressive growth strategies of new players such as Airtel Digital TV and Reliance BIG TV, says Ashish Sinha.

But that's not stopping experts from terming the industry as risky in terms of its economics.

The five private DTH operators (Dish TV, Tata Sky and Sun Direct being the other three) are expected to add over six million new subscribers by the end of December, to take the overall subscriber base to over 17 million, a 57 per cent growth over December 2008.

Nearly half the additions will come from the two new players, who launched operations only a year earlier.  The overall DTH subscriber base was under five million in December 2007. 

According to the latest projections made by Media Partners Asia (MPA), the international media research agency, almost a third of the new subscribers (for DTH and digital cable) in Asia will come from India by December this year.

The projections of the MPA report are based on net subscriber additions between December 2008 and December 2009, the actual paying subscribers of DTH services as opposed to the gross subscriber numbers (paying and non-paying subscribers) given by most Indian DTH operators.

But, the report says, investors in these companies will remain concerned about the mounting economic challenges faced by the DTH industry. And, that the five service providers will still have only around 30 per cent market share by 2013, versus 70 per cent for the incumbent cable operators. Cable homes are currently expected to be around 90 million.

The economics of the DTH industry are risky, as both subscriber acquisition costs and other key operating expenses, including content, will continue to outweigh revenues for another five years for most players, said Vivek Couto, executive director, MPA.

But for the moment, DTH players are gung-ho. According to the MPA report, Airtel Digital TV is likely to add a net of 1.4 million new DTH subscribers till December 2009, the highest among the two new entrants, BIG TV and Digital TV. Overall, Sun Direct will lead the pack, with expected net additions of 1.5 million new subscribers by the end of this year.  The others are together expected to add at least a million net subscribers by the end of 2009.

While not confirming his actual DTH subscriber base as one million, Ajay Puri, director and chief executive DTH, Bharti Airtel, said: We are very happy with our progress. Every fourth new DTH subscriber today is on Airtel Digital TV and we are leaders in 12 out of 19 clusters where we sell our DTH service.

On its part, Reliance BIG TV said it will cross the three million subscriber mark by the end of the current financial year.  Currently, Reliance BIG TV has a subscriber base of 1.8 million and is aiming at a 40 per cent share of the incremental subscriber base in the Indian DTH Sector, said Mahesh Prasad, President, Reliance Communications, for BIG TV in an e-mail response.

Dish TV, the country's largest and the oldest private DTH operator, is currently expected to hold the dominant position in the DTH market, with an overall base of 5.2 million net subscribers by December 2009, says the MPA report

Ashish Sinha in New Delhi
Source: source