Snapshot of HDTV’s India strides

Although HD penetration in India is still quite low at six-seven million homes versus 80 million active digital pay TV homes, the pace of growth is promising


Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Some days ago, Sony Pictures Networks India Pvt. Ltd (SPN) launched its Hindi comedy channel SAB TV in high definition (HD). This was SPN’s last channel that was still available in standard definition (SD) only. Now the popular comedy channel is available in both SD and HD formats.

With that, the broadcaster has completed its HD portfolio. It took time to launch SAB TV in HD because SPN was awaiting a licence from the information and broadcasting ministry. Each HD channel requires a separate licence from the government.

Six months ago, television home shopping firm Naaptol Online Shopping Pvt. Ltd also launched its channel Naaptol in HD. The channel was first launched in 2008 by Manu Agarwal.

In the last few years, HDTV has seen steady growth. Agarwal says he launched Naaptol HD to expand his consumer base and reach. Naaptol is now available on several prominent direct-to-home (DTH) platforms. The thought was not only to prepare for the future of television when the HD format would overtake the SD format, but to target a different consumer. “The whole idea is to divide the classes and masses,” said Agarwal, founder and chief executive of Naaptol in an earlier Mint interview.

The big global HDTV markets are the US, the UK, Japan, Korea and China. But now even Latin America is growing, according to Vivek Couto, executive director at Media Partners Asia Ltd, the Hong Kong-based advisory, research and consulting firm.

Back home, there are 92 HD channels, as per Chrome Data Analytics and Media’s latest report on the HD market titled Now Playing: HD.

Although HD penetration in India is still quite low at six-seven million homes versus 80 million active digital pay TV homes, the pace of growth is promising. In the last two years, leading broadcasters have added more HD channels. “Most of these are national channels, although in recent times a similar trend is unfolding in the regional space. This should boost HD adoption outside urban centres, particularly in markets which have a strong affinity to consumer content in their local language,” said Mihir Shah, vice-president (India) at Media Partners Asia.

The growth in HD channels rides on the back of a much better audiovisual experience in the format, especially when consuming content in genres such as sports, infotainment or films.

According to Chrome Data’s report, the DTH HD penetration in rural markets is the highest in the North-East (Assam and Sikkim), followed by Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar, Maharashtra and Goa. “The terrain of North-East has traditionally lent itself to DTH penetration. DTH itself contributes 79% to North-East’s rural market,” said Pankaj Krishna, founder and chief executive at Chrome Data Analytics and Media.

Currently, the penetration of HDTV is basically being led by DTH operators who are seeding their HD set-top boxes while cable networks are lagging. A cable network executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said that of the total set-top boxes being sold by his company, barely 10% are in HD. The price difference between HD and SD boxes is still high and volume requirement of HD boxes is low.

Yet, media industry experts cite the merits of HDTV and express belief in its future. For starters, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has allowed broadcasters to fix their own prices for HD channels. Ideally, this should result in more subscription revenue.

That’s not all. According to SPN’s president (network sales and international business) Rohit Gupta, HD channels deliver top-rung audiences in the so-called socio-economic category A. “HD caters to a very high-end audience. So it expands the portfolio of brands for a channel. It attracts brands that were not on the mass entertainment channels earlier,” said Gupta.

Despite such optimism, HDTV is yet to iron out some glitches. For starters, it has to grapple with lower penetration of HD-enabled devices such as televisions and set-top boxes which make HD viewing possible. Secondly, even though, in principle, a broadcaster can charge as much as it wants for HD channels, the money doesn’t come easy. The large cable networks still beat down their prices especially because there isn’t much of a difference between SD and HD channel content.

Besides, even advertising revenue is limited since the penetration of HD channels is still low. These channels are usually bundled with their SD counterparts and sold to media agencies, said Krishna of Chrome Data. The investment in HD—from production to delivery of content—is also steep. An HD channel utilizes four times the bandwidth compared to a channel delivered in SD.

So it will be a while before HD channels’ advertising and subscription yields go up and India turns into a full-blown HDTV market. However, its adoption could accelerate if both the broadcast and cable distribution industries resort to joint selling to increase the penetration of HD boxes in the country.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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