A decade ago, the Indian TV content business was swamped with MSOs or what we came to call ‘cable-wallahs’. DTH at that time was already an old piece of technology around the world but not in India because there weren’t many operators of the service except for Dish TV. It was only in 2010 when DTH services started gaining momentum, some credit to which owes to the resolution of issues between Star and Zee over content fees. Around this time, we witnessed the launch of Tata Sky and Reliance Bug TV, followed by the subsequent additions of Videocon D2H, Airtel Digital TV and Sun DTH.
How DTH changed the TV viewing experience in India
While DTH operators provided users with the ability to select channels through various genres, view upcoming programme schedule, set reminders for the same and even change languages, cable-wallahs were kind of content with regular TV content. Not only were these DTH providers a level above cable TV operators in terms of technology, some DTH operators even packed a higher service rating for bringing services like a 24×7 hotline to resolve customer issues, making things even worse for analogue TV operators.
Since then, there has been a major inception of DTH services in India and this is supported by the fact that India is the largest DTH market in the world with over 67 million active pay DTH subscribers who are serviced by 6 pay DTH providers. The total numbers are sure to increase if we keep count of the free DTH users in the country.
How direct-to-home actually works
With a service that needs a set-top-box (STB) to engage in content grabbing all the time, DTH operators rely on satellites to get their work done. These satellites cover the whole of India and to some extent even its neighbouring countries through their circular coverage. But one thing, DTH service needs to maintain is the bandwidth of the content being provided which is made with the use of a certain number of transponders. Small definition (SD) channels don’t take up much space when delivering content but HD channels do, since the size of the video stream is significantly larger.
|Tata Sky||Airtel DTH||Videocon D2H||Dish TV||Sun Direct|
|SD STB price||Rs 1,950||Rs 1,549||Rs 1,619||Rs 1,649||Rs 1,790|
|HD STB prce||Rs 2,099||Rs 2,099||Rs 2,100||Rs 1,799||Rs 1,699|
|Minimum monthly plan||Rs 99||Rs 99||Rs 99||Rs 85||Rs 199|
|Maximum monthly plan||Rs 560||Rs 777||Rs 525||Rs 475||Rs 379|
A DTH service provider is only able to add more HD channels to its stream by leasing more transponders, meaning there’s a chunk of cash involved while dealing with larger video streams. This additional cost is then levied on to customers and you’ve got to wonder why DTH tariffs have escalated to sky-high rates recently. Currently, we haven’t even witnessed a Full HD channel in India, so the hopes of seeing one in 4K look like a far-fetched thought, not to forget the impact of additional costs for such video streams.
Through the years
While FHD streams are nowhere close to being employed, streaming services like Netflix, Youtube and Prime video have been engaging on adding more and more 4K resolution content to their online library, rendering DTH services useless as the days pass by. Not to mention the sheer amount of money that would need to be spent on additional transponders which will then only be able to telecast a single 4K stream which isn’t feasible in the long run of things for dish services.
Now getting back to streaming apps and websites, there’s one thing to note and that is the fact that these services are further dependent on your internet connection and the bundled data that comes with your plan. Five years ago, if you would have thought streaming services would boom in a country like India, people would have outright called you an idiot. This was because the one place you’d be watching content will be your home and broadband speeds at the time made you wait while it buffers the SD content on your laptop or handheld device. There wasn’t any other option since faster(3G) data through cellular connectivity was still a luxury and most people lived on 1GB a month for which they paid close to Rs 500.
Enter. Reliance Jio and cheaper internet access.
When half of the country still relied on 2G for affordable data, Jio instantly turned around the rather stale market. Where users will get 1GB data per month for Rs 500, Jio now offers 2GB per day for around the same price, maybe even lesser. Other operators realised what was to happen and followed it up with cheaper data packs of their own and so did BSNL. The state-run company even worked on getting a faster connection for their broadband users and expensive data packs now seem like a distant nightmare.
With faster and cheaper internet came the rise of a new source of content viewing – Streaming. Some of them are free, like YouTube while some are dirt cheap like the Prime Video which comes bundled with an Amazon Prime membership alongside Prime Music as well. A user would only need to pay Rs 999 for an entire year to watch a wide range of content and also get exclusive deals on Amazon India. Other streaming apps include Hotstar and Netflix which do charge a hefty amount for their services.
How is streaming better?
While total prices of such services would amount as much as a DTH connection if take into account your annual expenditure, there are a few areas where streaming sounds like a likely option for content viewing. At a time when you’re already accustomed to 1080p content and are gradually shifting to videos in 4K, DTH operators still provide HD channels at 720p resolution. The number of HD channels in itself is negligible in contrast to the number of SD channels, meaning there’s no point having a 4K TV which plays pixelated content unless it’s smart TV.
While DTH provides you with larger (unwanted) content, Streaming services will let you watch your favourite TV show or a movie at the time you want it to be played. Even more so, there’s no schedule for a particular content to be watched and rewatched as online libraries are constantly updated with larger space to equip more and more content, meaning you can start or resume the TV show you might have watched, months after the last time you played it. On most occasions, there are no ads and you can pause and play content at your will without worrying that you might miss out on a scene or two. Even in terms of reliability, streaming services score the brownie points since most DTH networks are rendered unusable under a rainy weather while internet works for the most part of the day consistently.
|Starter plan||Free||Rs 199 (monthly)||Rs 129 (monthly)||Rs 500|
|Highest plan||Free||Rs 999 (yearly)||Rs 999 (yearly)||Rs 800|
|Multi-user||no restriction||unlimited logins||unlimited||up to 4 users|
|Smart TV||Yes||most TVs||Yes||Yes|
|Streaming Hardware||Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Mi TV Box|
|Library||5+ billion videos (46,000 years of content)||50,000 hours in 8 languages||4,000+ titles||
4,700+ titles (3,300 movies + 1,400 TV Shows)
|Live TV channels||Not in India yet||Yes (Max – 30)||No||No|
Lately, streaming services have also been developing in-house production content and are largely investing in the same, which appears to have found its audience among the youth. DTH providers are nowhere close to implementing such a thing and are only relying on content made by someone so they could make money selling it which is something any streaming service can line up once they pay for the license.
Taking all things into consideration, there’s simply no ‘value’ added service that DTH operators offer their customers and the same can be said about their outdated set-top-boxes which have featured the same genres and features that were offered at the time dish services replaced cable TV. This in addition to the rapid growth of smartphone usage has expanded the ecosystem of content viewing to a wider spectrum where users pay and watch the content they really want to.
Smartphones and other handheld devices which come at a lower cost than an actual TV are preferred over the latter since they’re easier to watch content on without being stuck to a single couch. Some TVs and TV accessories come with streaming capabilities that are made possible by connecting the device to the home network and thus let users watch content through the internet. Examples of that include the latest bunch of Smart TVs, Amazon Fire Stick, Google Chromecast and Xiaomi Mi Box which are affordable and can take the TV experience to a whole new level.
Having already disrupted the telecom market, Reliance Jio will also be releasing a combination of broadband and internet TV services across the country. This could be the change DTH business needs as the Jio service will not only generate TV content but will let users take advantage of streaming services when they please. Jio will be streaming its IPTV network through its Jio TV app which will connect to the internet and let you stream Live TV content from a week ago.
With data rates getting cheaper, broadband getting faster than ever and streaming services becoming more popular by the day, DTH has lost the charm it once spoke of. Like they say, all good things come to an end. DTH, if we recall was a game changer, a decade ago and now it’s certainly failed to catch up to the advancement in technology. While operators can try adding more HD channels to their catalogue with additions like a smart TV interface that lets you use streaming apps too, even such an upgrade would only take DTH a little further down the road. It now remains to be seen how long a once-booming service lasts for in the game that’s called life.