DTH: A Life Changer in Rural Karnataka

Vagdevi H.S.*

In this era of digitization, everything around us from washing machine to mobile phone is fast changing to become more savvy with every passing day. Television viewing is not lagging behind in this race. Soon we will witness mandatory digitization of satellite signals in four metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai). This is the beginning of a whole new phase in broadcasting. In this new system called ‘digital addressable cable TV system’ (DAS), only consumers with the digital set-top box will be able to view cable television. Households without a digital set-top box will not receive the cable channels. This new system is believed to bring more transparency in an unorganized sector like cable industry and hence will increase revenue to the broadcaster. In return, it will enable the broadcasters to provide value added services like video-on-cable, broadband-on-cable, pay-per-view content and so on. 

Certain questions need to be answered. Why is digitization given so much importance now? Who is going to be profited by this move? What role will Direct-to-Home technology play? What will DTH gain by compulsory digitization policy? 

Digitization of TV is inevitable. The government has come up with a policy after elaborate talks with the concerned industry. The government bill is expected to bring transparency in the functioning of the cable industry, boost the broadcaster’s revenue to enable him to provide more services in his value chain. It also important to note here that digitization of this sector will bring in a lot of foreign capital. It is believed that at least USD 2 billion worth of overseas investment is waiting to flow into the cable industry within 6-12 months after phase-1 is executed. The maximum benefit will surely go to DTH service providers.

The DTH market in India is steadily growing. At present it has penetrated 30 per cent of India’s 148 million households and it is predicted to double once the compulsory digitization takes place. To cash in on this opportunity many surveys are being conducted by top DTH players who are gearing up to meet the challenges that will follow with increased customer base.

Campaigns are being carried out by DTH service providers to create awareness among the public about the advantages of digitization of signals. The DTH industry is putting in consumers mind the idea not to compromise on the quality of picture delivered through set-top box (STB) provided by cable operators. It highlights the advantages of DTH connection over cable which includes services like high-quality CRM and billing solutions, good-quality service infrastructure, high-quality interactive services, choice of STBs (HD, SD, or HD- DVR), quality and reliability, value for money, feed in multiple languages, niche content, flexible packages, excellent customer service, and also importantly the availability of customer support in various regional languages. All this is done keeping in mind a vast shift from cable to DTH.

An analyst from a Mumbai-based firm says that out of the 123 million households having cable TV, 88 million are using the analog platform. So the opportunity is huge as all of them would be converted to digital platforms.

This is the current urban scene. But will rural India also be swift in adapting to the new technology? Digitization is going to hit every nook and corner by 2014, but the scene in rural India is much more different than the urban centers.

Rural India is characterized by uneven terrain, no proper transport, unscheduled power cuts and so on. In this background it is very difficult to provide cable television. Drawing cables through uneven terrains is very difficult. But it is marvelous to see the penetration of DTH in rural areas. Still, the cable television has penetrated only a few areas. Subscribers are left to the mercy of the cable operators and their tantrums. The DTH is emerging as a solution to many of the problems, the biggest being the monthly subscription fee which are pretty high considering the poor quality services provided by the cable provider.

Te impact made by technological advances on the rural masses is at a very superficial level. Of course, one will see the use of technology right from their kitchen (solar cooker, boiler etc.,) to their fields (pump sets, tillers etc). Here superficial meant using technology as an implement, a tool or a source of entertainment, not as a means to get educated. Globalization and its impact in true sense is limited, rather concentrated in urban centers. It has a long way to go in the rural areas which lack many amenities like good roads and connectivity. When undertaking a survey of rural areas of Hubli- Dharwad region to see the effect of cable or DTH in view of compulsory digitization of cable, it was difficult to find transport to reach a place called ‘Hullu Koppa’, a small village about 28 kilometers from Dharwad.

On reaching there it was astounding to see people flashing their cell phones sitting on their Hero Honda or Pulsar. But what caught the attention was the DTH dish antennas dotting the sky. More than 60 percent houses have DTH dish. The village is similar to many other villages across India which have no proper drainage system and no toilets. And the people are least bothered about it. This is a typical recent scene in most of the villages. They lack basic facilities but they are keeping pace with technology. 

Talking of total digitization here is a picture in contrast. When asked questions like whether they are aware of dish and digital signals, the people did not seem concerned with the working of technology. Television was very new to many a household. It was treated like a prized possession. People were concerned only about receiving uninterrupted telecasts so that they won’t miss on their favorite shows. They would have selected the shows depending on the timings of the power cuts. Many had acquired DTH dish when they bought television as it was part of an offer provided by the TV company in partnership with DTH players.

Because of advertising by the DTH providers, the villagers are getting a vague idea about digital signals which they call “BUTTI” (bamboo basket), colloquial for dish antenna. The BUTTI provides signals which are better than the cable signals. It shows that people are fast catching up with this new technology. But they are not worried about how it reaches them or the technical knowhow. 

There is a need to change the attitude of the villagers for overall development. The impact of DTH and the array of programmes that they view are limited. There is hardly any change in their behavior or in the way they look at certain issues be it family planning or cleaner surrounding. The need of the hour is education. This alone can bring in awareness. This can in turn bring in wholesome development. This is another huge area for a study.

What is of interest here is that there are large untapped markets which are looking for change to DTH from cable network. And there are places where only DTH can reach. The numbers are in millions. It is a goldmine for DTH providers. Aware of this, the DTH providers are not leaving any stone unturned to tap this market with offers and scheme to attract as many customers as possible. Still, there is a lot that is to be done. DTH is surely picking up but the major complaint is about the lack of customer service. This can make the customer dissatisfied as they have to travel long distances to lodge a complaint and get it addressed. It can be a negative publicity. There is need for customer service centers in these areas so that complaints can be speedily redressed.

With DTH becoming common among the rural citizens, it won’t be surprising that tomorrow the rural mass will accept total digitization, but their life style won’t change. For a better tomorrow, there is need to create awareness in the minds of people. But all said and done, it is amazing to see how technology and orthodox ways coexists in a microcosm. 


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