Mumbai: India’s direct-to-home (DTH) television companies are using the popularity of the forthcoming football World Cup to woo subscribers by offering free access to ESPN and Star Sports, which will show matches live, apart from which they’re widening their array of channels and showing more film titles.
Sun Direct Pvt. Ltd, which claims to be the second largest DTH service provider after Dish TV India Ltd, is offering ESPN and Star Sports free to new subscribers in markets such as Kerala and West Bengal. Its existing subscribers can view the channels at a special price of Rs40 (plus taxes) from 5 June to 12 July, the company said. The month-long tournament’s final is on 11 July.
Sun Direct added more than 2.3 million subscribers so far this year, taking the total to 5.5 million, said Tony D’Silva, chief executive. He expects the tournament to add significantly to subscribers, but would not disclose any details.
Tata Sky Ltd is also offering ESPN and Star Sports free to new subscribers for a period of two months.
The Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani’s Group’s DTH arm Reliance Big TV Ltd, with 7.3 million subscribers, is negotiating with ESPN-Star Sports for high-definition (HD) content and drawing up similar promotional plans, said Sanjay Behl, chief executive. “We’ve already crossed three million subscribers and will soon get more, after the launch of these schemes and the launch of new channels,” he said.
Dish TV will show the matches in HD, a service it started on 27 May, and will continue telecasts in that format for the Commonwealth Games and the cricket World Cup, said Salil Kapoor, chief operating officer. Dish has started offering Zee Cinema, Discovery and National Geographic channels in HD.
Bharti Airtel Ltd is offering DTH connections at an initial Rs1,590 that includes 75 days of free viewing of the channels on which the World Cup will be shown.
Most DTH growth could come from such price-cutting, said an analyst with a leading brokerage firm. “The only thing on the minds of some of these players is to wean away viewers from cable,” he said, declining to be identified because of his company’s media policy. Next year is a big one for sports properties and it’s only natural for DTH companies to offer free World Cup content to draw subscribers.
“Once you subscribe to DTH, it’s difficult to opt for any other service,” he said. “Subscribers may find that in the next year, most of these attractive schemes would have been discontinued and it’s a full calendar for sports.”
The battle for subscribers is not confined to soccer. Airtel Digital TV, the DTH arm of Bharti Airtel, is adding six-eight new channels to its existing 208 (including games, pay-per-view and audio channels). Videocon D2H and Reliance Big TV also plan to launch new channels over the next few weeks, while Tata Sky will start HD services.
Tata Sky has more than five million subscribers, less than those of Dish TV or Sun Direct.
“However, we are the clear number one in revenue,” said Vikram Mehra, chief marketing officer at Tata Sky, which has announced it will start showing new channels such as Fox Crime and FX. “We are priced at a premium and are focused on value leadership,” Mehra said.
Tata Sky’s move to make the World Cup coverage free was not prompted by Sun Direct’s offer, Mehra said. “It was driven by the buzz for (the World Cup), which is unprecedented in India this year.”
Videocon D2H has signed up 700,000 subscribers within five months of its nationwide launch, said CEO Anil Khera.
Movies are another area in which DTH firms are vying for subscribers. Airtel has six pay-per-view channels currently, and has premiered recent big releases such as My Name is Khan, Karthik Calling Karthik, Love Aaj Kal and Ishqiya.
There are 21-23 million DTH subscribers in India while the sector’s revenue is in the region of Rs3,000 crore. According to research and consultancy firm Media Partners Asia Ltd, DTH subscribers stood at a net installed base of 17 million in 2009 and will reach 45 million by 2014 and 58 million by 2020.