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Active DTH users fall for the first time in six quarter

India’s direct-to-home operators lost subscribers for the first time in six quarters even as people preferred to stay indoors amid fears of contracting the deadly coronavirus.

Total active DTH users fell 14.2 lakh sequentially and 6.9 lakh over the year earlier to 6.96 crore in the January-March period, data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India showed. This is in addition to the subscribers of the DD Free Dish — free DTH services of Doordarshan.

“The later part of the fourth quarter saw re-emergence of urban to rural migration among migrant workers due to a spike in Covid infections in cities. As it is, sporadic lockdowns during the course of the year had left many in the aspiring class with reduced disposable incomes while taking a toll on overall consumer confidence,” Dish TV said in its March 2021 report. “Subscriber churn, thus, remained on the higher side during the quarter and full year.”

That, coupled with a surge in the country’s streaming market as people turned online for work, schooling and entertainment, dented growth of the DTH industry.

The number of wired broadband subscribers rose 1.96% sequentially and 16% over the year earlier in the fourth quarter of FY21. About 35.8 lakh such users were added in FY21 compared with a net addition of 7.3 lakh in FY20.

While the data comes with a lag, it highlights a trend that’s likely to continue.

The emergence of the second Covid-19 wave in April 2021, according to Dish TV’s first-quarter FY22 earnings release, has further dented the sector prospects. “Entertainment, including basic linear television, went off the radar for many despite plenty of cricketing action being telecasted live initially for a few weeks around that time,” it said. Delayed recharges with widespread Covid sufferings in rural areas, too, created an increase in churn rate.

Still, the DTH services providers are hopeful of a rebound.

Dish TV said it remains “optimistic about the virtually perpetual relevance of television”. Television, it said, would continue to be the “most dominant, value-for money and fuss-free entertainment option that most Indians have today and will continue to have in the future as well”.

Besides, it expects a revival in discretionary spending due to economic activity normalising to improve business revenues.

According to Bharti Airtel Ltd., the parent of Bharti Telemedia, DTH business provides growth opportunities through bundling of over-the-top contents. “In DTH and broadband, the company saw a tremendous uptick in terms of ARPU and data usage in FY21. DTH crossed 1.8 crore subscribers and the company is now short of 20 lakh of its target of 2 crore subscribers in that space,” Sunil Mittal, chairman at Bharti Airtel, had said at its 26th annual general meeting. Bloomberg

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