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Sun Direct DTH - A new revolution from Sun TV, launched yesterday in Tamil Nadu, other cities to follow soon

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

/ by Srikanth Eswaran


This had to happen. The Set top box (STB) market was too crowded, and competition was, is and will be hotting up in future as well. So lets analyze in depth who were the providers who were there, and what change Sun TV has brought in with this Direct DTH launch. Erstwhile when the government opened up the possibilities for competition in the Direct-To-Home sector, there were only few takers.



Of this one of the early adopters of the service was Hathway and DishTV. While Hathway milked money from its customers without giving anything at actuals, DishTV was truly supposedly into the DTH market in reality. Hathway had subscribed to the DTH at its CO (Cable operator) end, and multiplexed the output along normal cable lines to homes. Just to add fizz to the drink, they screwed up the Analog transmission considerably making users feel that digital is the way to go (sic!) Without much option for thought as to why this is happening and due to little competition from others, the customers choice was to only agree for a set top box from Hathway that would bring in “DIGITAL” content into your homes. At that time it was a one time Rs.3999/- per set top box (~ $90+) which was a hideous pricing in itself. Generally in markets outside the world, STBs are sold even for as little as $10 - $20 range. However we live in “Incredible India”, so everything had to be incredible about things. I always never liked Hathway due to many reasons, they even overhyped their 64kbps (yes you read it right … 64kbps!!) internet as though it was the most ultimate thing on earth and internet could never be delivered beyond that speed and again charged Rs.3000/- a month for this nonsense of a service.


My STB from hathway even had a “Smart Card” except that it was just smart enough to boot up the STB and be there doing nothing more about it. So much for fleecing customers saying “Hey now you are proud owners of a Smart Card STB! Being in the STB domain in the industry, having seen everything about the set top box, these terminologies and explanations and assurances seemed only more like bullshitting (pardon the language) about flimsy technology. The problem with Indians has predominantly been paying too much for technology even before it was already there in full form. Which means something like buying a CD writer for Rs.10000/- when today a PC itself costs Rs.15000/- !!



The situation did change. In came Dish TV and DD Direct to home - the former was a private player from the north and quickly established lots of centers all over India and business flourished. Yet the cost of the STB was still 2999/- about 1k lesser than previously. Hathway began to feel the heat now. Dish succeeded to a great extent but their User interface graphics, and menu systems left a lot to be desired. So was Hathway graphics system as bad as ever. For those who dont know about this, there is a company called News Digital Systems (NDS) who operate out of Israel and Bangalore, who write the software for most boxes in Europe, UK and even for Hathway! This was a company of the STAR group owned by Rupert Murdoch and James Mudroch.


DD direct on the other hand was offering free DD channels of all languages and offering their own STB for a smaller pricing compared to Dish TV more or less. Their reach was more to the rural areas and the poor who always had loyalty in the government undertaking - Doordarshan.


This situation did not change for sometime until the great Ratan TaTa decided to do something about his own fortunes in this segment and launched the much famed Tata Sky DTH service. The prices were similar, the boxes were better, facilities in the box was even better, the user interface and graphics (menu systems) were more adorable though this was still done for TaTa by NDS. So money and strict requirements makes a superb change to a better viewing experience.



Needless to say Tata also tom-tommed about its STB and DTH all over the world and India, saying it has the best Digital experience like never before etc,etc. Little did everyone realize that the public at one point will understand that its just digital content that is transmitted over every STB and DTH and the quality of this content will be pretty much the same irrespective of the provider. Providers like Hathway and Dish started offering hefty discounts on their boxes and services some even giving away a six month free viewership deal due to this onslaught.


So what were the problems with TaTa sky? The billing was fine, the customer service was great with too less a turn around time. But the issue was with the channel boquet and packaging system. While there were many north indian channels in most packages, most of south india were either not familiar or happy with their channels in the list - they were too meagre in number to be compelling enough to go for the tata sky service. If TaTa had woken up on this beforehand, something could be done, but alas - the best was yet to surface.


Enter the Sun Direct DTH service. Sun TV was a rags to riches to rags again story in its umpteen years of existence. During its glorious days, it was the cause of envy of many a Tamil broadcaster, due to the ultimate patronage it enjoyed from the Karunanidhi family. Quality content, great picture and sound quality made it a true domain player. When MK came to power, it also got an unprecedented upsurge in viewership while it pitted itself against Jayalalitha’s JJ TV (man how much lower can people stoop to by naming a TV after them!).


All this was fine - until Dayanidhi Maran did one fatal mistake, that of discussing who would don the mantle of tamil nadu politics after MK - ie., which of his sons would make it as CM ? Unfortunately he used Dinakaran news paper as a means of conducting this poll, and due to the anger and violence it caused in tamil nadu, MK bore all the brunt of mud slinging - the end result - him deciding to kick Sun Network on its ass. And this he did with great pomp and splendor. He openly aligned with Raj TV, favouring them over Sun, he poached Sun’s acting cast to Raj and he even launched his own Kalaignar TV (now isnt that fit enough to comabat JJ TV - oh god!). During these days Maran lost his plum job as Communications minister, and the country perhaps lost a visionary too - remember he was at the forefront of lowering mobile call rates, ushering in 2Mbps broandband, and sort of creating exponential reforms in the telecom segment.


Of course he did divert Motorola and Nokia to our own yours truly Tamil nadu in the meelee, but in the general context he did much more than any communications minister ever did. With his flamboyant english speaking skills and business attired attitude, he caught the fancy of many people around the world. True to his professionalism, he even kept quiet when his entire TV network was being pulled down by none other than our own Kalaignar.


Media barons in the making surely have their own strategies up their sleeve and Dayanidhi and Kalanidhi Marans were not far behind either. Yesterday they upped the ante and contiunued their onslaught over the digital broadcasting domain with the launch of Sun Direct DTH - a direct to home service with a difference addressing all of previous bad learnings, finger burns, and market issues. The result - a service with a FREE set top box (common oldies, wake up now), a FREE dish - yes no catch here. - upto 90 channels of entertainment (radio and tv) - for just (hold your breath) Rs.75/- a month (~ $2.00). Holy cow. Interestingly TATA sky is now offering 1 million minutes free, I begin to wonder why!!


Click on this image to see the Sun TV Direct DTH plans and costs


Is it not clear that Sun intends to hit the volume segment and make its revenues. And DTH is not a business where Mr.Kalaignar can poke his nose or alter the business dynamics. Sun just shut him up with offering his own tv over their network and so also jaya! now this is called an even playing field. So now the set top box that I bought for Rs.3999 is invalid and is an e-waste ! Damn the growth of technology. Millions of peoples Rs.3999 is now down the drain.


So now the box and dish are free. Whats left? the service itself going free? Remember the great RELIANCE group is still there waiting to hit the market with Reliance Bluemagic. And with their recent Reliance Insurance, Reliance Fresh, and Reliance Mobile plans they have done well, atleast the pricing part. Its understood that Reliance will launch the IPTV (which connects the STB to your computer). With STB, PC and content available, you can watch everything on demand now, maybe with or even without advertisements! So where will your money then go? It will go to content. Anything that you get as an offering on the content side (serials, movies, songs) will be paid. The box will remain free. And content is like food. You cant live without eating food. You cant live without seeing movies, or entertaining yourself with music or playing games. And your kids will be most influential in asking you to buy these content - for which you will continue to pay. So Reliance, welcome to the club - all the best - prepare for the onslaught and it will be the survival of the fittest, fastest, cheapest and best! And dont forget adult entertainment is yet to make a big hit and that for sure will be the real money earner.


So do we see DishTV and Hathway pack their bags? Well mostly yes! Tata might make its box free in the shorter run and start offering IPTV along with Sun and Reliance. So this will then be regional dominance if not anything else.


We would then say - consumer is going to be benefitted the most - but a word of caution here. Dont buy technology when its too costly. Wait till it falls in prices. Wait till there is sufficient competition. And then the consumer will be the one who rules.


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