We want to be the first option that operators & last line owners see: Vynsley Fernandes

IndusInd Media & Communications Ltd (IMCL), part of the global Hinduja Group, has announced a new digital initiative – ‘I Am Mumbai, I Am InDigital’. With this, InDigital Mumbai now claims to be the biggest (by offerings) digital distribution platform with 700+ SD and HD television channels and 40 radio stations. The expanded bouquet of television channels caters to every viewer in Mumbai – be it genre, language or age group. 

This expansive offering is enhanced through providing viewers a premium 22-channel bouquet of ad-free content in partnership with One Take Media and Shemaroo Entertainment. The premium content under the ‘NXT Services’ brand is available not only to InDigital customers, but also NXT Digital customers across India. 

InDigital also presented the latest series of next-generation STBs to suit every consumer requirement at every price-point – from basic SD & HD zappers and entry-level HD Hybrid to Advanced Hybrid and 4K Android and OTT devices. The unique Basic HD Hybrid is a cost-effective entry-level hybrid STB for customers who want to experience the power of internet content and digital cable – at an affordable price-point. 

Along with ONE Fiber, a Group company, InDigital offers up to 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home connectivity. ONE Fiber has also launched its OTT device and service to complement InDigital’s enhanced channel offerings with a high-end service. IMCL will be announcing special offers for InDigital customers to upgrade to next generation STBs and services, including high-speed Internet. 

InDigital will expand the television and broadband combo-offerings to other cities in the next 4 weeks. 

Vynsley Fernandes, CEO, IMCL; Yugal K Sharma, CEO, ONEOTT Intertainment LTD (OIL); and NK Rouse, Business Head, IMCL, shed more light on the new digital offering, strengthening the digital base, InDigital’s performance, strategic partnerships and much more. Excerpts: 

On subscriber base of InDigital 

Vynsley Fernandes: We have two products under IMCL. We are the only integrated digital distribution platform in India today, because we are the only company that has digital cable, namely InDigital; NXT Digital, our Headend-In-The-Sky platform; and ONE Broadband. There is no one else in the country who has cable, satellite and broadband as a single offering. In terms of subscriber base, we are just shy of the 5-million mark, but remember that IMCL is the only company that is 100 per cent prepaid. Hence, this number (5 million) is not an estimate, it is an accurate number. 

On the Q2 results 

Vynsley Fernandes: Q2 has been very good for the company. There are two levels of growth that we are pushing – in the major cities where digital cable exists, penetration is by and large completed. The growth is vertical in big cities and that growth happens by pushing the number of channels and what Yugal is driving, which is our broadband growth. Broadband being the powerhouse to push up RPOs is a very relevant factor in the markets where penetration is already completed. That’s our revenue driver in the cities. However, Nxt Digital, by virtue of the fact that it has a satellite footprint, we are continuing to grow it month on month. 

We are growing in remote places like Little Andaman, Basar in Arunachal Pradesh, even Kargil. That growth is happening because our business model has always been partnership for progress. That has been a very important Hinduja ethos. Some of our operators have as less as 50 connections, which is why we have harnessed technology to design low cost delivery mechanisms for them, such as COPE (Cable Operator Premise Equipment). The growth in the cities is from a revenue perspective, but you will see the growth outside the cities from a subscriber base perspective. 

On ONE Gigabyte clashing with Reliance’s JioGigaFibre offering 

Yugal K Sharma: OTT is where the world is starting to move to. I believe most entertainment will be consumed as per the consumer’s availability of time not by appointment. People will want to watch video-on-demand, catch up, movies, anything on the go. Keeping this in mind, we have formed the ONE brand, which offers integrated digital and high speed fibre broadband. The vision of ONEOTT Intertainment LTD (OIL) is to transform the lives of customers by enabling them with an always-on-high-speed-internet-access for their on-demand entertainment – Intertainment. After all, data is the new OIL. ONE means that in the coming times we will have everything in one wire, one TV, one home and one ‘Intertainment’ and that is where the brand ethos comes from. 

We have a strategic partnership Viu, called Viu Life, which is owned by PCCW of Hong Kong. They are coming together with us for the OTT offering. Today, your product, pricing, promotion and people strategy – everything is a given. We have planned our network rollout that is very robust. If you look at Jio, what they have done is that they built the capacity and then sold it. While they grew, they enhanced and that’s why competitors were caught unawares. We have our fibre system that is very important for high capacity networks. There are 32 cities where we have our own or our strategic partners’ fibre capabilities. I believe we are going to have an edge because we started rolling out our ONE GIG plans about 2 months back and the good news is that we are getting a 4-digit output there. Product wise, capability wise and capacity wise – in every way we are the same or even better than our competition. We will differentiate only on one aspect and that is our customer service. We aim to beat them in there. 

On strategic partnerships 

Vynsley Fernandes: In order to have a full portfolio, one needs to go to the market offering CDCA (Connectivity, Device, Content, Applications), but nobody can do that on their own. Hence, we will have various tie-ups and strategic partnerships to achieve that end. 

We have strategic alliances at multiple levels – some may be joint ventures and some may be strategic alliances, but not joint ventures. It doesn’t necessarily mean a commercial contract nor does it mean a business contract. If you look at the future of business, it is all about collaboration. It is a bundling partnership with someone. 

Our partnerships have a revenue share model, because gone are the days when acquisitions made a lot of business sense. Today, it is all about strategic partnerships and revenue share. 

Content is a great area to form strategic alliances, where we have allied with One TakeMedia and Shemaroo Entertainment to offer a much more rounded offering to customers. There is a whole bouquet of ad free, premium channels in which content from our strategic partnerships is available to customers. 

A lot of people have RPD (Return Path Data). The beauty is that in our case we have intermediates who are our business partners or last mile owners. They themselves have a pulse of what the customers want and don’t want. What we do is create packs and roll them out and we sit with our LMOs and our ‘ground’ partners and work out our pricing strategy. 

On issues faced by prominent DTH players 

Vynsley Fernandes: The direct competition to DTH would be our Headend-in-The-Sky (HITS) service. One big problem is that the entire HITS platform is on the C-band vis-a-vis DTH, which is on the KU-band. KU-band is susceptible to any change in weather, or what we term as weather attenuation. C-band is robust and is not affected by dense cloud cover, neither is it affected by snow or heavy monsoon. Our entire business is on C-band, thus, compared to DTH, our uptime is much higher. 

NK Rouse: The packages that we offer under NXT Digital are at extremely low entry price points. Our customer is already the last mile owner, who is already providing services to his customers. He has already set the benchmark for a price point. It becomes that much easier for us to offer a competitive price point, whereas DTH would have a challenge because how do you segment the market? In HITS, you can segment the price points depending on the region, territory and consumer. We are able to customise our product and make that infrastructure available to the last mile owner. Our aim at NXT Digital is not to become an MSO, but rather to be an infrastructure service provider. Segmentation and smart packaging is going to become a very significant driver. 

On strategy to connect rural India 

Vynsley Fernandes: There are 3 important things about the rural India markets: they lack connectivity, pricing is a big issue, and they don’t have the funds or expertise to go digital. NXT Digital is very simple. As I mentioned earlier, we have launched COPE (Cable Operator Premise Equipment), where everything is designed keeping the customers in mind. We will roll out 3.5 lakh such equipment initially and take it up to 11 lakh. We have Nano COPE for cable operators who can offer 250 channels, which is enough for customers in the rural markets. Because he doesn’t want too many channels, so why should he pay for more? 

We have already been offering COPE to our smaller last line owners and MSOs in small towns in India who want to make a transition and embrace digital. The beauty is that independent cable operators can migrate without them having to reinvest in the technology. We can take a lot of that existing technology and repurpose it. 

Second is to offer the manage services to all our NXT Digital platforms as Hinduja Group’s philosophy is that partnership is all about progress and the idea is to allow the operator to remain independent and let him continue to own his network. All we do is providing him the tools to do it. So, we would like to certainly push the manage services model much more than pure penetration of the business.

On BARC discontinuing measurement of analogue homes 

Vynsley Fernandes: Excellent! It means that a lot of networks which were staying in the analogue domain will now be forced to move to digital domain. So, that helps us because obviously, we would like to be the first option that the operator or the last line owner sees.


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