Digitization will boost TV industry: MPA report

08 Dec,2011

By Rishi Vora


The government mandate to digitise cable networks across India will bring a significant transformation to the US $7 billion television industry with a positive impact on the nascent broadband market, says a report published by Media Partners Asia (MPA).


Executive Director of Media Partners Asia, Mr Vivek Couto said, “India’s broadcasting and pay TV market is on the cusp of a high growth value phase, similar to North America between 1998 and 2003, Korea during 2003-2007, and Taiwan during 2005-2010. Valuations of the domestic companies in these markets during the high-growth value stage typically skyrocketed, as networks were upgraded and services to consumers expanded. In India, domestic players and foreign investors will both do well, to the benefit of consumers, when the government’s policies take shape.”


The report, entitled ‘Investing in Digital India: The Dynamics of Mandatory Addressable Digitization’, underlines benefits across the value chain.


A boost for the government and the economy
If the current analog cable distribution model remains in place and digital penetration is limited, the cumulative value of the tax receipts lost by the government would reach US $11 billion over the next decade or more than US $1 billion per year. The government therefore has sufficient incentives to push digitisation and can also accelerate the process by offering tax incentives to a potential multi-billion-dollar industry. Digitisation will also help the government pursue India’s broadband goals and thereby help to boost economic growth. Potentially, a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration would increase India’s GDP by 1.5 percent. As of September 2011, broadband per capita penetration in India was only 1 percent. In its National Broadband Plan, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India sees a pivotal role for cable operators with digital network upgrades paving the way for broadband growth.


Consumer will have the choice
Digital cable television will improve the consumer experience and resolve legacy issues from analog cable services. Consumers will gain access to more channels; attractive tiering options with differentiated content across local, regional and niche genres. It will provide a better viewing experience; and improved quality of service. Digital cable television will also be affordable for the consumer. As per international benchmarks, spending on pay TV typically accounts for 5 percent of GDP per capita. In this context, digital cable television in India will be affordable given heavy subsidies on STBs (currently subsidised at 60-70 percent by MSOs), which will ensure that consumer spends fall within the 5 percent benchmark. Consumers will also benefit from new competition as digitisation in metros ensures that seven DTH satellite platforms (including free service DD Direct) compete for customers with digital cable operators.


Cable transformation almost certain
MPA expects a six-fold increase in subscriber revenues for cable MSOs, though not without at least a 20 percent churn in the cable subscriber base to DTH. Subscriber declaration levels will increase from 15 percent currently to 100 percent, while the retained ARPU will increase by six times after assuming a 30 percent base case revenue share with the local cable operator (LCO) will reduce the payback period on digitisation. Under a bundled model, the payback period could be reduced by a year to 24 months, as opposed to 36 months under a standalone digital proposition.


The main challenges, apart from managing subscriber churn to DTH are one, the drop in carriage fees by about 20-50 percent; and second – incentivising revenue-sharing agreements that need to be struck with local cable operators to drive digital into homes.


Opportunity for DTH players
Phase I digitisation in the four key metros offers a good opportunity for DTH operators to grab high-ARPU customers and increase the platform’s reach in larger TAM markets. MSOs envisage about 15-20 percent churn in cable subs to DTH, though some suspect this could grow to 30 percent in the early stages of Phase I deployment. Subsidised HD offerings will also act as a key differentiator for DTH players as few cable operators have rolled out HD services.


Benefit to broadcasters
Digitisation will help boost subscription revenues and reduce dependence on advertising. Improved economics will also help broadcasters launch niche channels with a premium focus while carriage and placement fees will fall in certain markets and moderate in others. At the same time, consumer adoption of certain programming tiers and specific channels (over others) will ensure healthy competition while broadcasters will also be under pressure to produce content with differentiation, premium quality (potentially advertising-free) and with local relevance.


Benefit to investors
Upon successful implementation of the digital mandate, gradual consolidation of LCOs will become inevitable. This will shift industry profits and value to centralised distribution platforms and broadcasters. Valuations for cable/ pay TV operators in the USA, Korea and Taiwan during their high-growth value stage typically averaged 12-16x one year forward EBITDA, versus the current trading average of 9-10x for India’s listed cable/pay TV entities. MPA assumes similar or higher valuations for companies in India subject to successful execution. Most investors, especially strategic companies, will adopt a wait-and-watch approach, potentially making their bets after Phase I is completed.

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