Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Opinion | Cable, DTH firms brace for video-on-demand onslaught

Hybrid STBs will let viewers watch both TV and online video streaming services

Rajesh Sethi, chief business transformation officer, SITI Networks Ltd, has been quite busy ever since he announced the launch of a new hybrid set top box (STB) earlier this month. He is not resting on his laurels, after having launched the PlayTop. There are many new products in the pipeline, which he hopes will make life easier for SITI subscribers. Part of the Essel Group, SITI is a multi-system operator providing cable services.

Sethi is not alone in planning a hybrid box. Direct-to-home (DTH) service provider Tata Sky is also in the process of launching its own hybrid STB, which will deliver both internet and satellite signals. DishTV group chief executive officer Anil Dua, who is now presiding over the merged entity that includes Videocon’s DTH business d2h, says the company is working on a hybrid box. “We will have it this fiscal. It will be a hybrid box loaded with features." He, however, declined to share details.

Also in the pipeline are similarly connected boxes from Hinduja Ventures cable company—IndusInd Media and Communications Ltd (IMCL). According to IMCL CEO Vynsley Fernandes, it plans to roll out its hybrid STB during the festive season.

The question is why are both cable and DTH service providers in the race to introduce connected STBs? For starters, hybrid STBs will allow consumers to watch both linear television—all the private broadcasters’ channels—as well as online video streaming services, whether subscription-based or free. That means, besides channels such as Star Plus, Zee and Discovery, among others, streaming platforms, including Hotstar, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Voot, will be at your fingertips.

SITI’s box, for instance, has an in-built facility for YouTube and YouTube Kids. It has an in-built Wi-Fi receiver, which allows customers to use their existing broadband connection (by any ISP) to make their TV smart. The STB will initially be launched in its core markets, including West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Odisha, Delhi and Haryana.

More recently, even Hathway Cable announced a tie-up with video-on-demand (VOD) platform Netflix, wherein the Hathway STB will have a Netflix button. In this case, the box can switch between Netflix and traditional TV channels with ease. The service will allow Hathway subscribers to pay for their Netflix subscription using their Hathway bill. Hathway is one of the leading cable TV services providers in India, as well as one of the leading cable broadband service providers, which offers cable TV services in 140 cities and towns.

So are these companies launching new hybrid boxes because they fear customer churn and a migration to streaming services? Predictably, they are quick to deny fear of a churn. Instead, they say that they are offering a new set of services to keep their customers happy. Says IMCL’s Fernandes: “As the business evolves, you want to expand your market."

SITI’s Sethi, however, admits that the broadcast industry dynamics are changing. “There is a convergence of consumption between OTT (over-the-top) streaming and linear TV. At SITI we are the last mile operator. We have a pipeline and we deliver entertainment solutions. We see consumption happening on different devices. Consumption patterns are evolving. It is not TV alone anymore."

Siti conducted a survey among 3,100 of its customers to discover that people are watching online content. “Right now, there is a shift. 97% online viewers watch YouTube. So, we have come up with a converging device, which offers YouTube. We are also ring-fencing our customers as consumer preferences change."

However, Sethi is quick to dismiss cord-cutting in India. “For now, consumers are watching both TV and online content. Time spent watching TV is not going down. TV is still the fulcrum of entertainment in a household. But yes, in addition, people are using multiple devices," he says, adding: “If I offer these services, it also helps me increase the share of the wallet."

Agrees DishTV’s Dua, whose company boasts of 23 million subscribers: “Online streaming is a habit that people have added. People in smaller towns watch free apps and YouTube." However, to ride on the wave of demand for streaming services, Dish is mulling the launch of its own video streaming service. “This will have live channel, catch-up TV as well as exclusive content. We are going to participate in this trend. We do know it will become bigger."

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.

Close