Disruptive direct- to home is taking on the Net
When the Internet was a hot new thing shaking up stock markets worldwide, many of us thought that wired broadband Internet was the future, and a good part of it would come through fibe-optic cables. But the “dotcom” bubble happened, writes N Madhavan.india Updated: Oct 18, 2009 20:34 IST
A decade ago, when some of us were aware of the humongous potential of the Internet and convergence technologies, the guesses we were taking on how things would shape up in the convergence game. The twists and turns that a new technology can take through its life can be quite surprising even for those who think they know the script.
When the Internet was a hot new thing shaking up stock markets worldwide, many of us thought that wired broadband Internet was the future, and a good part of it would come through fibe-optic cables. That is indeed true, but not in the way we thought. For instance, I remember that Reliance Communications (then run by Mukesh Ambani before the business went to brother Anil) was thinking of using fibre to supply movies to film theatres.
But the “dotcom” bubble happened, and Internet companies fell out of favour with the markets, while telecom companies in the broadband space went through their own meltdown in the US. Technology, however, kept its forward march. Now, we have seen companies such as Pyramid Saimira and UFO Moviez using satellites to create a broadcast-model distribution of cinema to smaller movie halls. That is not as hot in quality as digital projection cinema, but has altered the cost element significantly in the business.
Meanwhile, direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting has taken off in a big way. Reliance’s BIG TV, Tata Sky and Dish TV have been joined by brands like Sun Direct, Airtel and of late, Videocon. The ease with which they are spreading, and the new features they are giving are breathtaking. For anything between Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,000 and monthly subscriptions, these brands can get you started on not just television channels by the hundreds, but several interactive services.
New movies are offered for downloads, and channels beam education, travel and religion related content in an interactive mode. Downloaded storage enables a pay model in which you can alter the time of viewing. Latest movies can be viewed for as low as Rs 25, and I think that potentially threatens both video rentals as well as the multiplexes. For instance, with a solid LCD TV or high-definition TV with a large screen at home, you can do a lot now with your DTH service provider.
Videocon is taking the game to the next level by integrating the set-top box and storage with its own television set and offering services as well—in a fulls-service model. Radio channels from the satellite (Airtel offers my favourite WorldSpace channels) can take on conventional FM radio broadcasters, while interactive TV can substitute for the Net in a lot of spheres.
After experiencing the new DTH offerings, I think this is more disruptive for India than the Internet. My guess is that smartphones offering 3G services and DTH will change India faster than we think.