Direct to home (DTH) platform Tata Sky took on new brand identity as Tata Play starting January 27. Along with the change in name and logo, the DTH service is positioning itself as a content distribution platform that offers TV as well as over-the-top (OTT) content. Coinciding with the rebranding, the platform launched Binge Combo packs which offer TV channels and popular OTT apps in a single pack.
It has also added Netflix as an add-on bundled service to its bouquet of offerings. To make the content viewing experience frictionless, the service provider has done away with visit charges by technicians. Furthermore, inactive DTH customers can continue to recharge and get restarted on the platform without having to pay any reconnection charges.
Tata Play Chief Communications Officer Anurag Kumar spoke to exchange4media about the rationale behind the new brand identity and the expansion plans of the company going forward.
What prompted this move to change the name to Tata Play?
In the last 15 years, Tata Sky had built a name for itself in the minds of the consumers across the country. Over a period of time, we were able to firmly entrench ourselves in the minds of consumers as the best pay-TV service provider in terms of quality. In the last 4-5 years, the content distribution landscape has evolved with the advent of OTT. To address our offering in OTT, we launched Binge+ where we aggregate content from 12 OTT apps and offer them in one single user interface to Tata Sky customers.
Since Tata Sky had firmly entrenched itself as a pay-TV service it would have been difficult to associate the brand name with the expanded service (OTT). Therefore, one of the things which we said is that a brand identity change, including the brand name change, is something that will get people to notice and wonder what is new about this brand. This is where we will present the fact that we are not just a DTH operator, but we are a holistic content distribution platform and the entire gamut of content across television and OTT will be covered by Tata Play. We also have some niche services like Tata Play Fiber. So the new brand name will go across all the services which we are providing. So this is what led to the change of the brand name and the identity.
What else changes in terms of services that you provide to customers?
While we have rebranded Tata Sky to Tata Play, it was equally important for people to see what the new brand offers. When we changed the brand name, we didn’t just make a cosmetic change of the brand name but we also said what are the services which consumers will get with the new brand. So, for instance, on the same day of the new brand name launch, we also added Netflix on Tata Play to enable customers to take Netflix along with TV channels as a single bundle with a single subscription. Customers can now access both TV channels and OTT platforms like Netflix across devices.
We have also launched a new pack called the Binge Combo Pack wherein you can take a combination of TV channels and Binge together in one subscription. And that’s the one payment that customers make and they will get subscription to all these apps and TV channels put together. So the Binge Combo Pack made it very, very convenient for people to subscribe to a whole host of OTT and TV services together.
Another big change is the removal of service charge which was paid by Tata Sky customers to our technicians for providing certain services. The service charge used to be Rs 125 but we have decided to make it completely free to make it very frictionless for the customer. The whole idea is to allow the customer to watch TV uninterruptedly. Another key point that we are communicating to our customers is that we don’t charge reconnection fees, unlike other DTH operators. When DTH customers deactivate their service for some time they have to pay reconnection fees to their DTH operators. We were not doing that. So, whether it is TV or OTT, we want to make the customers’ content consumption journey as frictionless as possible.
To what extent is the top end of the pay DTH base migrating to OTT by cutting the cord?
Our view is that OTT is growing which is why we are also offering Binge Combo Pack. People who were earlier watching TV are also watching OTT. So, they are still watching TV. They are not cutting the cord. There are lots of youngsters who say that they cut the cord, but when you ask them the question that did you even ever watch TV before that and most of them said ‘No, I hardly used to watch TV any which way’. So there was no question of cutting the cord when you were hardly watching TV in the first place and now you just added a lot of OTT viewing. TV and OTT have grown and there’s a lot of data that we have received from BARC India and others as well. And we’re also seeing the same thing. The recent reduction in pay DTH base is also due to the pandemic. So what we have seen is that the reduction in DTH base is not so much about cord-cutting at the top end of the market but due to the inability of the customers at the bottom end of the market to recharge since their incomes got impacted.
Even though the overall paid base has seen a reduction these people have not thrown away their set top boxes (STBs). These customers will come back once their earnings improve because their families might be interested in watching TV. They might be watching free content through DD Free Dish because they are constrained economically. So we believe that as the economy recovers, that should come back. So therefore it is not a cord-cutting issue.
With 40 million customers and growing, how serious a threat is DD Free Dish for pay DTH industry?
DD Free Dish did become a viable option for customers at the bottom to watch TV since they were not able to afford Pay DTH services. Otherwise, these customers would have gone completely out of the TV industry. To that extent, they have been captured by DD Free Dish. Also what DD Free Dish does is that there could be a lot of people in rural areas who are buying a television set for the first time. We have about 300 million households in this country. Of this, 130 million are Pay-TV households across cable and DTH. Another 40 million are DD Free Dish customers. So the total base between pay-TV and DD Free Dish is 170 million. There are another 20 million who we call temporarily disconnected. Sometimes they recharge and sometimes they don’t recharge. So, that’s about 190 million TV homes. BARC says there are about 210 million homes. So the number is between 190 to 210 million.
But there are 300 million households in the country and out of the balance households every year there are 20 million households who buy a TV set because they get income etcetera. I think what DD Free Dish does is that it also allows people at the bottom end to come into TV for the first time. While they might have paid Rs 5000 or 10,000 to buy a television set they are not willing to pay Rs 300 a month to the pay-TV operator because they don’t have that kind of money. If I look at the positive sides of Free Dish, it allows people to continue to be in the category. It also allows people to come into the category to get to watch content. This provides a DTH company like ours to access this large base of customers who can be a source of growth for us if they ever choose to pay for better quality content. Everybody will not convert but even if 5% would convert that 5% after will keep coming back to pay-TV and we will benefit from that. So I think DD Free Dish is a positive phenomenon if we look at it from a broader macroeconomic point of view.
How do you plan to tap into this huge DD Free Dish base?
Our strategy to counter Free Dish is to continue to ensure that we provide the widest variety of content through a connection that does not fail and recovers very fast if there ever was a problem. So I think the fact that we are known for great service means that customers get the best variety of content which you can watch with HD quality and with the fantastic service and with the least charges possible. We will continue to offer that. It is true that at any point of time atleast 5 to 10% of Free Dish customers will see value in that proposition and they will therefore choose a brand like us. Our strategy does not change for Free Dish like providing a discounted STB. We do not believe that we need to go down that track. We believe that what we are offering is great quality and there will be enough takers even within the Free Dish segment who will see the benefits of the quality and will come to Tata Sky. We see that happening every month where DD Free Dish customers are coming into Tata Play. We hope that the brand change and the other propositions that we are offering will help us in getting more customers.
How big is your Binge+ customer base and what kind of traction do you expect for this service going forward?
So the Tata Play Binge service is currently open for someone who is an existing Tata Play customer. We have more than half a million paying customers on our platform with this service. We believe that it is going to take off because we have finetuned this service in the last couple of years. Earlier, when we launched Binge, it was available only through Amazon Fire TV Stickt. Then we launched a Binge+ STB which had both TV and OTT on a single user interface. Both Binge and Binge+ were for the large screen that is TV and therefore it meant that you needed a Wi-Fi connection in your house. In June 2021, Binge was also available on mobile. We’ve also increased the number of partner apps on this service. We have now reached a point where we have a fantastic product that is available across devices. We’re very actively talking about Binge Combo Packs, Startup Play, Binge in our campaign because we believe it’s here to take off.
How is your broadband service Tata Play Fibre performing?
Tata Play Fibre is present only in a few cities because we have chosen to focus on the high paying customers who are willing to invest in a fantastic quality broadband connection. Therefore, the focus is really on a few cities and in specific localities of a few cities. And it’s really about ensuring that we get a very profitable business from these cities with great customer sickness. So it’s a 100% fiber network with fantastic quality in select pockets. So that’s the current focus of that business, and we are quite happy with the progress it’s making.
Which are the key markets you will focus on to add new customers?
We have always focussed on cable markets because cable customers already pay a certain level of subscription so it is easier to upgrade them to DTH. So our focus first will be cable markets across the country such as South, East, Maharashtra, etc. But it does not mean that we are not going to be active in the Free Dish markets. We will see a smaller percentage of conversion coming from Free Dish because getting a customer who was paying zero to suddenly pay Rs 300 per month is not easy. That conversion will always be at a lower rate than someone who’s paying Rs 300.
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