Jaldi 5 with Sugato Banerji: Digitization has opened up opportunities for service providers

06 Dec,2012

What’s-on-India, TV Search & EPG (Electronic Program Guide) technology company, took a leap forward with the the appointment of Sugato Banerji as its Chief Operating Officer. Mr Banerji was until recently CMO at Airtel DTH & Media.


A graduate from IIM Bangalore and a chemical engineer from IIT-BHU, Mr Banerji has worked with advertising (Ogilvy, JWT and Lowe), internet (Aptech), banking/finance (Visa, Stanchart) before being CMO at Airtel for the last five years. He started his 23-plus-year career at Xerox in sales.


Mr Banerji spoke to MxMIndia hours after his appointment was announced:


01. And we thought the action was happening in DTH, given digitization?

It’s a misconception that DTH is the only category that will grow and thrive in the digitization programme. Globally in highly penetrated C&S countries where DTH has been existing for 20 years, it has been able to garner only between 40-45% of the total C&S share. It is expected that with the seriousness of the government to pursue TV digitization being demonstrated by adhering to the extended timeline given for Phase 1, more and more action will shift to the MSO who control large chunks of the next 38 cities.


There is a clear message the MSOs and LCOs have taken home and we are already seeing MSOs, both big and small in the Phase 2 cities gearing up as fast as they can for digitization.


And as the digitization takes root, there will be an entirely new ecosystem of various service providers who will participate in the category. Allied service providers have a window of massive opportunity akin to how VAS service providers, billing systems, domestic centered call centres, network companies, passive infrastructure companies have worked with telecom majors to drive telecom category growth and efficencies.


We at Whats-On-India strongly believe that the momentum will continue on digitization giving as opportunity to grow because every set top box will need the core Whats-On-India product – the programme information, programme synopses and series information necessary for the electronic programme guide to be functional.


The critical consumer change cable digitization will bring in is the fact that there will be 500+ channels available to chose from as declared by the regulator and the introduction of multiple tariff plans by the MSOs. Let’s talk about the proliferation of the channels available to the viewer once the home is digitized. The plethora of choices and competing programmes would make it difficult to choose the right one. One could miss a fabulous programme and end up surfing aimlessly. Content discovery will become more and more complex. This is precisely where our sophisticated TV search applications come in.


Now look at the tariff plan regime change that will start in the digitized homes. The operators will need to know the best programmes to recommend, the most appropriate channel mix to promote. The unique ARPU enhancer and the Pack Builder products will be crucial tools for the operators to start building usage and revenue enhancement programmes around the customer base they digitize.


So, the action is far, far wider and diverse than just the DTH operators. I wanted to be a part of this exciting time in the bigger digitized TV category, that’s why I am here.


If there’s one thing that you would like the DTH business to be able to redo, what would it be?

The DTH industry has grown rapidly in the period 2008-2011 largely led by the entry of four more competitors. This increased distribution reach and heightened consumer awareness due to big budget ad spends by the 6 DTH operators in the private sector. The intensity of competition brought several short-cut methods to grow customer acquisition. On an already subsidized set top box, DTH operators kept adding irrational freebies on two sides simultaneously – higher and higher margins for the retailers and more and more free months/channels with each purchase for the customer.


This has led to massive churn by consumers in the lower end who merely swapped a 6-month-old box with another box of a different or same brand at a lower price than earlier, with the retailer selling the roof top accessories to another customer. A win-win for the customer, the unscrupulous retailer and a lose-lose all the way for the DTH operator. The DTH industry should have avoided this shooting at its own feet. It is paying a heavy price for this, even today.


02. From an ex-DTH marketer’s point of view, are you happy with the way the digitization process is going?

Digitization is moving forward surely albeit slower than we would like. This has to be understood in the context of the deep-rooted analogue cable industry’s revenue distribution. Local cable operators (LCOs) are the owners of the customer in an analogue regime. They share 20-30% of their revenue with the MSOs. There is rampant under declaration of subscriber numbers. MSOs therefore are forced to depend on carriage fees as a source of revenue. There are many politically well-connected entities running analogue cable.


With digitization, the LCOs share will come down drastically to 30-35% of the total subscription revenue. This will impact 60,000 LCOs, controlling about 80 million analogue homes. Who would want their income to drop nearly 3 times? So there is bound to be resistance. However, the government has done a considerable bit to ensure the timelines are adhered to as close to the original deadlines as possible. The broadcasters and the government both have run extensive on air campaigns for consumer awareness. Additionally, the broadcasters are switching off analogue feeds, the MIB officials are undertaking head end visits to audit compliance of switching off analogue signals. The first phase was easy with only 7 million homes to be digitized. Phase 2 will be the real test as 22 million homes need to be digitized in less than 4 months. It’s a tall order and while we want the digitization deadlines not to be extended, given the enormity of the task, there is likely to be some slippage. But overall are we happy? Well, the answer in a single line is somewhat happy. The government has demonstrated seriousness with the first phase and one sincerely hopes the GoI adheres to the rest of the deadlines without extensions.


03. The change also means moving back to Mumbai. Happy about that? You can’t take Mumbai too far away from a true blue Mumbaikar, huh?

Haha! Well from the BPO capital of the world and glitzy buildings portraying the epitome of India shining where BMWs often outnumber motorcycles in a traffic signal, to amchi Mumbai with its incredible all-round buzz, efficient public transport systems available 24×7, loads of interesting cultural and gastronomic opportunities to spend leisure time on ! Well apart from the joys of winter I won’t really miss much because I truly think the Whats-On-India role is intensely exciting. Plus this is the hub of the media and entertainment industry in India so professionally it’s an exciting city to be in. Immensely glad to be back here.


04. What’s-On-India is unique in many ways. It’s a technology company which facilitates information processing. Is that what you will be driving further?

What’s-On-India is uniquely positioned to drive change in the way digital TV distribution companies will operate in India going forward. While technology is the facilitator, the real product we have is a transparent search service that pools in information from multiple sources including the viewer’s preferences, his profile, his social network and other sources to present a comprehensive personalized recommendation of the best programmes. As more and more connected TVs, connected wireless devices get bought, the consumption of TV content will dramatically increase in these devices. Catch Up TV, Recorder devices, side loaded content, peripheral content all will start quickly. This is where search and content discovery will help simplify the viewer’s choices of what to watch when. What’s-On-India is right there in the middle of this pitch ready to score.


There are ground-level  analyses and reports we provide to broadcasters from 2000 head ends for aiding  distribution as well as consultancy for broadcasters to improve their products placement. This comes under our TV Street Maps division which we recently acquired.


We are already present in the Middle East catering to the Arabic electronic programme guide market through a recent acquisition in Jordan where we have already been working with two large operators.


I would be working to expand our client both at the operator side and broadcaster side  roster in India as well as deepen the existing relationships in light of digitization, consolidate the ME operations while  work at judiciously expanding our footprint.


05. So what’s the immediate action point for you? What’s the new thing one can expect?

India is the focus because this is where the immediate opportunity lies. So my task would be to get cracking with deepening our relationship with the large DTH operators like Airtel, D2H, Reliance, Tata Sky and in parallel working with the MSOs and broadcasters. I will work on getting a more structured client management approach with the sales team so that we can cover more clients and get faster closures of deals. In the next 90 days we want to sign up lots more clients and build a robust revenue stream that will allow us to start building deeper product penetration with each client.


In summary what I would be doing is consolidating and deepening the large relationships while expanind the client roster at the medium to small end.


You are an accomplished marketing professional having spent some quality time in the internet space, banking, finance and telecom and who has cut his teeth in advertising. Do we see a greater marketing offensive coming up at Whats-On-India?

What’s-On-India has a strong brand recall in the relevant segment we operate in for being a quality driven innovative organization. We need to enhance this further by becoming the thought leaders in the domain. I see a lot of scope of What’s-On-India becoming the benchmark in the category of search and viewer analytics in the TV space.


We have a B2C website that is getting revamped by among the world’s top notch digital design firms. This will be ready soon and we will need to market that effectively using cost-efficient ideas. The team is already working on them as I speak.


We will be launching a slew of more sophisticated products to enhance the capability of the entire product suite we have. So on the product and B2C front there is a lot we will do.  Plus the whole effort of overseas market entry and growth.


That’s a lot for any marketing man to work on…  it’s exciting.


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