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No beating about the bush.
The path to digitisation has plenty of roadblocks which is affecting the revenues and profits of companies in the broadcast media
The television media is looking forward to digitisation, which is said to be beneficial for—both channels and broadcasters. It is expected to increased revenues for television channels and broadcasters, many of which are struggling financially. But, there is ample evidence to point out that the transition is not going to be easy.
About a week ago, the ministry of information and broadcasting said that it will start with the digitisation drive from April 2012, beginning with the four metros. The ambitious process is supposed to digitise all cable and analog households in the country by December 2014. The conversion is something many experts claim to be the cure-all, in this case, helping broadcasters and channels to earn revenues and save themselves, and provide a “high-end” experience to viewers, who are still stuck with an ordinary viewing.
According to the FICCI KPMG report, India has 146 million households that have television sets; and cable and satellite makes up 80% of the segment. The biggest beneficiaries from the digitisation drive may be the Direct-to-Home (DTH) service providers and Multi System Operators (MSOs).
But we see that despite a considerable rise in the number of DTH subscribers, the channels, broadcasters and DTH service providers have not made money. This brings us to the question, why?
The answer may lie in the convoluted tariff structure and huge inefficiencies of the system. The core problem is that channels are too dependent on advertising, customers are not paying enough for their entertainment, a substantial part of what they are paying is not reaching the TV channels and there is huge oversupply of channels, many funded by slush money and controlled by politicians. This oversupply is draining everybody’s resources—pushing costs higher and dragging down everybody’s profits (or increasing their losses).
The revenues of television business are hugely dependent on advertising. They hardly make much money from subscription. Currently, the average revenue per user (ARPU) is Rs160 per month, across all platforms, according to the FICCI report. This is much lower than what other countries pay. To reach Indian homes, they are dependent on cable operators and DTH providers who extract their pound of flesh. Hernan Lopez, president and chief executive of Fox International Channels, recently said in an interview: “Indian broadcasters generate $2.6 billion a year in advertising. But they only net out $700 million in subscription fees, after accounting for the $400 million they have to pay back in carriage fees.”
Carriage fee is the fee that the broadcasters pay the cable operators and DTH operators to ensure that their channels are carried into your homes. The system of carriage fee is mystifying, and suffers from lack of transparency. The analog cable operators have enormous clout in this area, and they can raise carriage fees, and every year, channels seal deals with these cable operators at increasingly high rates. And there is good deal of revenue leakage from the system. This means, that the channels often lose out on the revenues they earn, as the cable operators do not report their total earnings. Many cable operators are opposed to digitisation because they think it will lead to their loss. It is not that DTH operators are making money either with their carriage fee system. In a recent meet, Harit Nagpal, MD & CEO, Tata Sky, pointed out, “Of every Rs100, the DTH operator has to shell out 32%-35% as taxes and the broadcaster takes about 35%. So, what am I left with? DTH operators in India have shelled out Rs20,000 crore so far towards digitisation.”
The FICCI KPMG report says, “Broadcasters as well as MSOs expect a decline in carriage fee after the implementation of the first phase of digitization. However, there is a lack of consensus on the movement of carriage fee in the medium term. While broadcasters expect a decline over the next two to three years, some MSOs expect carriage payments to claw back to current levels.”
The biggest problem faced by the sector—and what nobody wants to talk about—is of oversupply that is forcing fragmentation. More than 600 channels are on air and government has approved more channels, which are yet to be launched. While many television channels find it difficult to manage their finances and get money for continuing their operations, channels (especially in the regional segment) funded by slush money supplied by some powerful entities get ahead. The money flows in without interruption and unregulated; while other channels struggle to raise money through painful and legitimate means and the channels with dubious means of funding further fragment the sector, and eat away at the revenues. This seamy side of the TV business escapes the fund mangers and analysts. The industry professionals cannot talk about it.
Following the global financial turmoil and inflationary pressure, many corporates have cut down on advertising costs. While the number of channels going up, advertising rates have remained flat and even shown a decline. The 2011 FICCI report had estimated that advertising will grow at 15% CAGR. But the 2012 report says that the growth has been close to 12%. Since 2009, rates have remained flat.
To combat all this, broadcasters have tried to tap into the premium payable segment, i.e., viewers who pay for what they watch via DTH platforms. But it continues to be a very niche segment, because DTH services are costlier than regular cable. Cable operators provide more channels at the same cost while DTH and high definition channels (HD) will also cost more. Convincing the viewer is to pay more will require across-the-board changes.
The FICCI KPMG report estimates that the total cost of digitisation, over four stages, would cost Rs20,000-Rs25,000 crore— excluding investments for DTH additions during the phase. While large cable operators may be able to raise the required cash, small operators and MSOs may not be able to do so. Judging the present scenario, 2014 does not seem to be a realistic deadline for complete digitisation. Information and broadcasting minister, Ambika Soni has assured that the prices of set-top boxes (which are offered at the cheapest rates by China) will come down and that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will impose a tariff capping for subscribing to channels so that viewers do not get access to the whole bouquet of channels. But it will take more than that. Digitisation may improve subscription base, but without a thorough reform in the revenue structure of the industry (which seems impossible given the endless supply of channels), it seems unlikely that Mr Nagpal’s and his friends’ problems will go away.
Despite alliances, joint ventures and other alliances, matters haven’t improved for India’s media companies. These ‘glamour stocks’ have failed to live up to their investors’ expectations. It remains to be seen how digitisation will affect the industry
The FICCI KPMG 2012 report says that the Indian television sector, which is estimated to be worth Rs329 billion in 2011, is expected to grow at 17% CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) and touch Rs735 billion in 2016. A look at India’s big media companies, however, raises a fundamental question: where is the money?
A few days after the FICCI KPMG report was released, Murdoch’s News Corporation finally sold its stake in Hathway Cable & Datacom. After more than a decade’s wait, the stake was sold for just 5% more than its buying price. Stupefying as the fact is, it is hardly a standalone case. While media reports appear regularly on the great prospects for the media industry in our country, most companies have put up a dismal performance and have decimated investors’ wealth.
News Corp’s Asian Cable Systems had picked up a stake in Hathway for Rs342.72 crore in September 2000 and sold it for Rs358 crore. The return is paltry but Hathway has seen exits by its pre-IPO stakeholders like ChrysCapital—which sold its stake after the 2010 IPO earning 27% returns; and Morgan Stanley Principal Investments, which exited in 2010 too made losses. Hathway has more than Rs275 crore in debt now.
Hathway is not an exception. Den Networks has a debt of Rs156.12 crore on its books and despite a slight improvement of 4% in the December 2011 quarter, the company’s stock price has fallen 37% since its listing in November 2009.
Television channels have seen a steady decline over the years. After the Zee Telefilms (now known as Zee Entertainment Enterprise) split, Zee Entertainment, Zee News and Wire and Wireless, have seen losses. Zee News has seen a 69% decline in its stock price since its debut in January 2007, and Wire and Wireless has a debt of Rs347.63 crore. Wire and Wireless was trading at Rs8.52 on 19 March 2012, having seen a spectacular decline of 93% since its debut five years ago at Rs120.8.
Zee Entertainment, is doing comparatively better—with only a 10% dip in its stock price since its listing in January 2007. Zee’s DTH wing, Dish TV has a debt of Rs1,086.26 crore and since its debut in April 2007 at Rs103.46 the stock has fallen by 48% to Rs53.5 as on 19 March, 2012.
Media companies like NDTV, TV Today and TV18 have also put up less than stellar performances. NDTV has a debt of Rs180 crore and since it got listed in May 2004, its stock has gone down by 59%. TV Today opened at Rs181.35 on BSE in January 2004. On 19 March 2012 it was trading at Rs54.90, the stock having gone down by 70%. The TV18 stock has managed to lose more in a shorter period, having plunged 72% since its debut at Rs100.33 on the BSE in February 2007. The cash-strapped company has Rs292.78 crore of debt on its books.
Network18 Media & Investments performed even less spectacularly. It debuted on the BSE in February 2007 at Rs366.75. On 19 March 2012, the stock was trading at a meagre Rs36.50, which is 90% lower than its listing price. In the last one year, as of 19 March 2011, the company’s stock price has fallen by 75%. TV18 follows closely, with a slide of 72% during the same period; and NDTV with a 40% decline in its stock price.
According to the ministry of information and broadcasting, there are 812 television channels in India, as of 29 December, 2011. Despite alliances, joint ventures and other alliances, matters haven’t improved for India’s media companies. These ‘glamour stocks’ have failed to live up to their investors’ expectations. Yet, the hype surrounding the ‘Indian media boom’ continues unabated.
Now, it remains to be seen how digitisation will affect the industry—which everyone is looking forward to.
Clearly, spanking new planes are not just the only thing Air India needs, but a professional and experienced airline management team is needed, as well. It needs a strategy rather than random decision making, otherwise, Air India will keep fishing for one-off travellers due to its low fares, but will not be an airline of choice
As a keen follower of aviation events, I landed up in Hyderabad last week for a day trip, with the main intention being to explore the much talked about Boeing 787 planes that Air India (AI) is lucky enough to get an early delivery on. India Aviation 2012 was on, and the Boeing Company brought the plane, which is almost ready for delivery to Air India, painted in the AI colours to showcase to the Indian audience and media. This new airframe which was developed from scratch to provide lighter weight of the plane and save about 15% fuel, Boeing has about 800 planes already on order, and AI will be one of the first few customers to receive these planes in the world, after All Nippon Airways of Japan received theirs in the last few months of 2011.
And still, I am disappointed that Air India will botch it up almost from the word go. I waited for a couple of hours to get my turn on the plane, as the bureaucrats and friends of Air India walked by me into the plane to be demonstrated on the breakthroughs in passenger aviation. I walked around the plane and from the outside, it looked royal. But as soon as I walked in, my heart sank because Air India did manage to disappoint, yet again.
Let’s go back a couple of steps before so that I can make my case. The airline product is basically not just the functional service of “how fast and conveniently you can get there”, but also the experience of getting there. Different airlines go about doing different things to make their passengers feel welcome and comfortable, and the longer you have to be in a metallic tube that flies without the option of change of scenery; the more the flying experience starts to count. Swiss Airlines gives away chocolates to say thank you and Lufthansa boasts of a special terminal for their First Class customers if you are flying at their Frankfurt terminal. Bottomline is that airlines invest a lot of money in developing a product that they hope will bring repeat customers, sometimes for the food, sometimes for the quality of the seat and sometimes for the in-flight entertainment system.
With AI, they had a golden chance to break through their staid image riding on these new planes. Air India’s perception amongst the frequent flyer community is that of an irregular airline which does not treat its passengers well. It gets you there, yes, but that’s about it. With comparable or cheaper prices to travel outside the country and offering a better quality of service, carriers outside the country have been able to gain their marketshare from AI. After all, if you got a better service and could take out the Air India stigma, why wouldn’t you go with the other carrier?
But what Air India did was totally different. I hazard a guess on what happened. In typical bureaucratic fashion, Air India called tenders for installing seats and inflight entertainment products, and went with whatever perhaps was the cheapest; with no regard to design or aesthetics. Another airline, Germany’s Lufthansa, on the other hand, spent 3 billion euros to develop new seats for their business class passengers which they showcased in March 2012, as well. In the process of matching up the colour scheme with the Air India colours, some babu ordered rust-orange and red upholstery for all the seats, and designed a 238-seat large economy cabin on the 787 that looks like it was already used for 10 years before even flying one commercial flight.
People who will pay more money, up to five times more, to travel business class will be disappointed a bit, too. The airline has installed nice comfortable seats in those same orange and red colours upfront. Here, they’ve overlooked other finer ergonomic design aspects. Again, my argument is that these premium travellers would be disappointed and would not come back, or perhaps would choose to fly another airline which will offer them a similar price but a better experience. So, by not investing in making flying a memorable experience, Air India won’t be able to get out of this loss-making black hole because they are giving no reason to the flyers to do so.
The other aspect that will let AI down the loss making path is poor network planning and revenue management. Unconfirmed reports state that Air India will perhaps fly its first international flights on these planes on the Delhi–Melbourne route. This is a route they have been trying to launch for the longest time, but have been unsuccessful. Their direct competition on this sector would be Qantas, which after operating Mumbai–Sydney direct flights till 2010, withdrew from the market since it was losing about $20 million per annum on that route.
Clearly, spanking new planes are not just the only thing Air India needs, but a professional and experienced airline management team is needed, as well. This airline needs a strategy rather than random decision making, and some experts who can make sure the full potential of the tools at their hand are made useful. Otherwise, Air India will keep fishing for one-off travellers due to their low fares, but will not be an airline of choice for the Indian affluent. Till then, my taxes will continue to finance the adventures of Air India.