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What explains the stagnation of the cable TV industry in India?

Cable operators in India have been going through a tough time. Nearly a decade ago, when the government mandated digitisation of cable TV, those who did not want to spend on new set-top boxes gave up on their subscriptions. Another blow came in 2019 when telecom regulator TRAI’s New Tariff Order complicated channel selection and raised prices.

Data from the broadcast Audience Research Council shows that as many as 210 million households in India owned a television set in 2020. This is a 6.9 per cent increase from 2018, when there were 197 million TV homes.

But the number of cable homes in India has fallen from 115 million to 100 million. According to a report by credit rating agency CRISIL, DTH subscriber base substantially increased in FY20, as the cable TV subscribers shifted after the implementation of the New Tariff Order.

This was because the cable operators were struggling with integration and roll-out challenges.

At the end of 2020, India had about 70 million DTH customers. This is in addition to DD Free Dish, which is estimated to have crossed 40 million subscribers. On the other hand, cable’s share of total television subscribers has steadily declined from 63 per cent in FY15 to 43 per cent in FY20.

The pricing parity led to a 30-35 per cent increase in cable TV tariffs, which eroded the price advantage it enjoyed over DTH. This also meant that the average revenue per user of DTH and cable TV has been converging quickly.

Mihir Shah, the vice-president of Media Partners Asia, told our columnist Vanita Kohli-Kandehkar that “cable as a standalone video service is on a structural decline”. No major foreign investor has entered the sector though 100 per cent FDI is allowed.

With increasing options like phone, OTT platforms and Free Dish capturing customers’ eyeballs, cable operators are looking at new ways to grow.

The industry has now been playing up the internet as their core offering as video consumption pattern is showing a gradual shift from TV channels to streaming services. Therefore, to reinvent themselves, cable companies will have to deploy a broader set of products surrounding the internet connection.

The television industry revenues are estimated to grow at a rate of seven per cent annually to Rs 84,700 crore in 2023. This presents an opportunity for the cable industry to embed itself further into the households by providing related services and increase its share of the pie. Business Standard

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