Demand for STBs may touch 20 million per year

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By Nitasha Chawla

The Indian television broadcasting industry, with about 150 million households, is set for a major transformation as the cable digitisation bill has been finally passed by the Parliament in the winter session of 2011. According to a Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) report, the analogue nature of the cable TV service, which caters to around 94 million households, had been the roadblock to exploiting the full potential of the service in this era of convergence. The digitisation bill, which will amend the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, will pave the way for complete digitisation in the country by 2014.

The new law envisages digitisation in four phases. In phase I, it is expected to roll out in four metropolitan cities by June 2012. In phase II, cities with a population of over 1 million will experience digitisation by March 2013. Phase III and IV would have a timeline of digitisation in other urban areas and the rest of India till the end of 2014.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) also recently announced its plans to speed up the process of converting India’s cable TV distribution system from analogue to digital. In this regard, the ministry will push for financial incentives to ease import of equipment, including set top boxes (STBs). According to estimates made by the ministry, an investment of US$ 8 billion will be required for digitising Indian cable TV networks in the next three years.

Boost to STB market in India

According to an industry expert, by 2013-2014, the digital TV industry is projected to grow to 135 million homes, with DTH reaching 54 million customers. Given the high growth projections, the passing of the digitisation bill is a positive development that will give rise to an organised and systematic broadcasting sector, and boost the STB market.

Once the digitisation bill is implemented, the requirement for STBs will increase by more than 2-3 times of the current imports. This means that the demand for STBs will almost touch 20 million per year,” says Amit Kharabanda, executive director, Mybox Technologies Pvt Ltd, an indigenous digital STB manufacturing company.

Currently, local manufacture is meeting about 25 per cent of the requirement of the DTH industry, as per the Department of Information and Technology (DIT) annual report 2010-2011. Industry experts say that India imports more than 95 per cent of STBs. Of these, 80 per cent come from South Korea and China. At present, around 0.1 million STBs are manufactured in India per month, while 0.5-0.7 million STBs are imported during the same period. Besides, even assembly is not being done on a large scale.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to push domestic manufacture through government support and measures in order to achieve the goal of digitisation by 2014. One challenge faced by local STB manufacturers is that their profit margin is thin, which acts as a deterrent in the growth of the domestic STB market.

That the profit is thin is reflected not only by all the domestic manufacturers but also the manufacturers across the world, because STB pricing today is a high volume low profit pricing. Though it is a highly technical product, today its valuation is based only on its pricing. We hope that with more and more digital boxes being deployed, and with growth in customer awareness, more technically advanced STBs with more value additions and features will be developed, leading to better margins of profit in the long term,” explains Amit Kharabanda.

In order to meet the huge demand which the mandatory digitisation will generate, India’s dependence on imports of STBs is going to decline since the bill aims to have a systematic broadcasting sector, wherein everybody who is a part of the broadcasting value chain will benefit. In 2009, the government had introduced a 5 per cent customs duty on the imports of STBs. This move attracted criticism from the cable industry; however, the government was of the view that as the domestic manufacturing qualities are ramped up, there would be greater value addition and the cost of STBs would certainly go down.

Impact on STB manufacturing

India already has great potential demand for STBs, and there are several reasons for this. The increased sale of LCD TVs in India is sure to drive sales of STBs. In 2012, a fall in CRT demand and increase in LCD TV shipments has been predicted. Other growth drivers for STBs include availability of more channels, availability of online movie channels, TV services in remote areas via DTH, and greater affordability—technically and commercially.

In addition, with the passing of this bill, the industry has a chance to exploit its potential and build a better domestic market than the existing one. Amit Kharabanda is optimistic about the domestic production of STBs getting a boost with increased digitisation. He says, “Manufacturing will definitely increase in India, and with the right support from the government and industry, it can grow exponentially to almost double the current production. Also, advantages of digitisation to an operator are manifold, starting from flexibility, better inventory management, foreign exchange, accountability and quality control. However, the Indian banks also have to support the industry for its financing needs.”

With the growth of manufacturing in India, the whole STB ecosystem will benefit as the domestic component industry will also grow. This will, in the years to come, translate into less dependence on imports of electronic components whose import bill in the coming years may go as high as oil’s. Also with digitisation, there will be more emphasis on R&D and creating solutions as per Indian STB market.

Once India creates an advanced digital ecosystem and the domestic manufacturing picks up, prices of STBs could even fall. According to reports, Ambika Soni, Information and Broadcasting Minister, expects STB prices to fall with the passing of the bill. This is because STBs will be available against payment in instalments and on rent. Also, TRAI will impose a cap on tariffs for subscribing to channels.

STBs sold in India today is already the cheapest in the world. The increase in volumes, support from chip companies and other component manufacturers, and the growth of the component industry in India, will all help to reduce the price further. “The percentage is anybody’s guess, but the price should reduce by at least 15-20 per cent, or even more, keeping a good quality product as benchmark for the same,” says Amit Kharabanda.

Challenges on the way

As India embarks on its journey to become fully digitised, there are certain challenges it may face.

The biggest ones would be enforcement of digitisation, meeting the high demand for STBs, and most importantly, finance for the operators to move the large number of boxes and other services from analogue to digital, according to Amit Kharabanda. He also suggests that it is high time to implement the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India, as that would affect pricing of goods to a great extent.

Manufacturing in India will also encourage overall industry growth. “Once this happens, Indian products will be as competitive as products from China, Korea and other countries. Also, it will help our GDP to grow, generate employment, and make India a manufacturing hub and an export market in times to come,” says Amit Kharabanda.

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