The explosion of HD channels across the world has been immense over the last five years; however India is clearly lagging behind with around 35 HD channels, and most DTH companies only able to offer viewers around 15 of those.Whilst limited satellite bandwidth has often been cited as the key barrier to HD content growth, the production costs and revenue economics are still a challenge.
The US saw an immense growth in HDTV households post digitisation - penetration increased from 17 per cent around 2006 to over 75 per cent today with over 55 per cent possessing more than one HDTV. In India there are now more than 20 million HD-ready homes, yet only 2 - 2.5 million STBs have been rolled out across the country. So why hasn’t HD picked up, considering consumers are investing in HD televisions?
IDOS 2013 hosted a distinguished panel, including Videocon D2H deputy CEO Rohit Jain, Times Television Network CEO - English Entertainment Channels Ajay Trigunayat, Star India senior VP of Legal and Regulatory Pulak Bagchi, Dolby Laboratories India country manager Pankaj Kedia and Chrome Data Analytics & Media founder & MD Pankaj Krishna; to discuss how and why HD can be pushed to drive distribution and digitisation initiatives across the country.
The key question posed was, do consumers actually know the true attributes of HD. This is an interesting question and could largely explain the slower rollout of HD content seen in India so far. Pulak Bagchi pointed out, “If consumers have never experienced the quality difference of HD nor understand its attributes, how would they know whether they wanted it or not. Also, does the consumer really understand the difference between ‘HD’ and ‘True HD’ and that having an HD television does not mean that you are viewing HD content?”
Rohit Jain of Videocon D2H believes HD is the mass driver and corroborated the statement by pointing out that “d2h is now able to convert a sizable percentage, well over 15 per cent of their new subscribers to HD services, driven by better marketing and education of customers on the improved quality user experience of HD.”
Ajay Trigunayat too “has believed in HD for a long time, and launched Movies Now in HD with a clear belief that it would be a distribution driver for the future. With digitisation itself, the opening up of digital gatways facilitating more bandwidth at the last-mile level and the success of the channel, this stand has been vindicated.”
Dolby, who had set up a demo suite at the conference, impressed operators attending the conference by the quality and experience. Pankaj Kedia commented on the fact that to achieve Dolby quality to complement the HD service “one needs to start right from the production of content through to the capability to receive it at the consumers’ STB, to ensure viewers’ experience is enhanced and of high quality.”
There is definitely a market for HD content and it is picking up, but this can be expanded quickly and easily through making the consumer more conscious on the true power of HD - there is no comparison to watching a cricket match in HD rather than SD. Once the consumer has seen the power of HD, there is every chance that they will opt for the service if they can afford it.
Operators must also do their part in ensuring consumers are aware that they can offer HD services through their own local level marketing activities, which has been limited to date during Phase I and II digitisation. Digital cable television with its high bandwidth capabilities can easily distribute many more HD channels than any other medium and operators should take advantage of this for driving ARPUs and stickiness of consumers. Interestingly, as all the panelists conferred, HD itself has no specifications or standards in India, as compared to other countries. “Until there is standardisation about what HD means, it will be impossible to monitor or ensure the best quality of content for consumers.”
However, HD channels need to take care and ensure that they provide a unique service for their customers. Pankaj Krishna of Chrome, cautioned that, “If HD content becomes the norm, then there can be a forced shift… but if there is an option of a considerably lower rate for the same content, with compromise in quality read as SD, then the price sensitive Indian could well opt for the latter.”
As Castle Media director and panel moderator, Vynsley Fernandes, summarised - “the jury is out in favor of HD content becoming a mass driver for distribution, albeit slowly, as cost of production and delivery mechanisms rationalise.”