India’s DTH players grow 22.4% in just three months

Spurred by intense competition, India’s DTH or direct-to-home market grew by a whopping 22.4% in just the last three months of 2010, numbers from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India have revealed.

The growth is the fastest rate of growth for the industry in several quarters and seems to indicate that the DTH industry — already one of the fastest growing in the country — may be accelerating its growth rather than slowing down.

Having begun seven years ago when the Zee Essel group launched Dish TV, the DTH players have snapped up around 40% of India’s pay TV market.

According to TRAI numbers, the total subscribers on private DTH networks reached 32 million by 31 December 2010. Just three months ago, it was 26.4 million, indicating a growth rate of 68% from a year ago. Instead of slowing down as the base expands, the industry seems to be gathering pace.

For example, during the previous three months — from June 30 to September 30, the industry added just 2.67 million new subscribers compared to the 5.61 million added during the final three months of the year.

Similarly, the addition rate was between 2.2 million and 2.5 million per quarter during the first half of 2010.

The numbers don’t include the millions of subscribers on the free-to-downlink DTH service run by India’s public broadcasting trust, the Prasar Bharti.

Besides Dish TV, other players in the Indian DTH market include Tata Sky, Videocon, Airtel Digital and Big TV.

The numbers are also bad news for India’s 20-year-old cable industry as more and more paying customers are moving towards DTH. The cable industry is trapped in a catch-22 situation as it cannot deploy digital networks and services like DTH due to the large investment needed, nor can it step aside and let DTH wipe the floor with it.

To spur cable companies to digitize — the only way to compete with the superior clarity of DTH — the government is likely to set a ‘sunset’ date of 2014 or 2015 for analogue cable.