Sun Direct, the DTH operator from the Sun TV group, has added several new High Definition channels over the last several days, and has now overtaken rivals Dish TV and Videocon D2h in terms of the number of English movie channels on its HD platform.
The move comes more than a year after ISRO launched the GSAT 15, which promised to make more capacity available at the location at which Sun Direct is broadcasting from.
GSAT-15, launched in late 2015, has 24 Ku band transponders, all of which can be used to beam DTH services into the country. A single transponder of 36 MHz is able to support around 8 full-HD channels.
The satellite was placed exactly where one of Sun Direct’s two existing satellites are placed. Like Dish TV, Sun Direct uses two satellites to ensure that it has enough capacity. For beaming standard-definition channels, it uses the satellite Measat-3, located at 91.5 degrees east.
It also one transponder on INSAT 4B located at 93.5 degrees east — same location as GSAT 15 — to beam its HD channels.
Sun Direct used to have all its channels beamed from 5 transponders on the INSAT 4B. But in July 2010, power problems on the satellite forced the shutdown of 4 transponders, forcing Sun TV to move most of its channels to the neighboring Measat-3.
This also forced Sun TV to send its engineers to each and every household to re-tune their dish antennas to the new satellite.
As of late last year, Sun Direct had the lowest number of HD channels among all operators with the exception of Reliance Digital TV. With a big increase in the number of transponders at 93.5 degree location, Sun TV can easily overtake every other operator in the number of HD channels it can offer.
Dish TV and Tata Sky have the highest number of HD channels in India, even after the expansion at Sun Direct.
Using its 6 transponders on Asiasat-5, the Dish TV offers close to 50 HD channels, while Tata Sky has started offering lots of HD channels after moving its subscribers from the less efficient MPEG2 format to the more efficient MPEG4.
SUN DIRECT’S NEW HD CHANNELS
Before the expansion, Sun Direct used to have around 10 HD channels in all.
However, as of today, it has increased the number of such channels to 40.
But the big difference between an operator like Sun Direct and someone like Videocon D2h and Dish TV is that Sun Direct has most of its customers in the non-Hindi-speaking belt.
This means that it is free to dedicate its new capacity to English-language and South Indian HD channels. And this is exactly what it is doing.
Before the expansion in channels in January, Sun Direct used to have only a couple of HD English movie channels out of the 10 that are available in India today.
The highest number of English HD movie channels used to be with Airtel Digital and Tata Sky, which broadcast nine out of the ten channels.
While Tata Sky did not broadcast Movies Now 2, Airtel Digital did not broadcast HBO (in HD format).
Dish TV has seven out of 10 (Movies Now, Movies Now 2 and Le Plex are missing), while Videocon D2h has only five out of 10.
With the expansion in January, Sun Direct, which used to be at the bottom, has now overtaken Dish TV and Videocon D2h in terms of English HD movie channels with eight out of ten channels supported (see chart.)
Moreover, most of these channels were added about three weeks ago, and there chances that the operator could further boost the number further as more contracts are signed.
Another advantage with Sun TV is price. Its mega pack — which includes all 40 HD channels on the platform, is priced at Rs 529 per month or Rs 5,400 per year. For comparison, Tata Sky prices its all access pack at Rs 8,900 per year. It works out of over 750 per month, including interest costs (due to advance payment). Airtel’s pack also costs somewhere in the same region as Tata Sky.
However, Airtel and Tata Sky also has a large number of regional HD channels — especially for the North Indian market. The total number of HD channels on Tata Sky at present is 76, almost double that of most other players including Sun Direct, while Airtel Digital has around 54 channels.
ENGLISH ENTERTAINMENT CHANNELS
Sun Direct has also added new HD sports and English entertainment channels as well, and now gives tough competition to Airtel Digital and Dish TV in this regard (see chart.)
However, one area where it does lag behind the others in its HD line-up is in sports.
While others carry all six HD sports channels from Star TV, Sun Direct carries only four of them as of now. Two channels, Star Sports HD3 and HD4 are missing.