"I am just a call away," is quite a claim. Especially when made by a service provider. In its new campaign, DTH provider Tata Sky does just this. The message is loud and clear: "Phone lagega to Tata Sky bhi lagega" - If your phone can get connected from a particular location, so can Tata Sky. Ogilvy India has created a marketing campaign to deliver this message. An ad film, shot in the remote areas of Leh Ladakh, is currently doing the rounds on TV.
There are close to 35 million DTH subscribers in India, catered to by seven players. Of Tata Sky's new subscribers (last four years), 60 per cent are from outside India's top 20 cities, says Harit Nagpal, MD and CEO, Tata Sky. Vikram Mehra, chief commercial officer, Tata Sky, adds that while urban subscribers are upgrading to recorders and mobile apps, rural India is awakening and demanding for DTH connections.
Being available in all parts of the country is a goal Tata Sky has been working towards for the past three years. The company has been trying to build sales and service infrastructure in these regions, and design better and more relevant applications. Mehra is confident Tata Sky will reach its goal soon. Here's how: The first step is to strengthen distribution. Then comes after-sales service infrastructure, something the company has created with the help of local dealers and service technicians.
Nagpal explains the merit in outsourcing the sales and services part of the process. "These are local people working under the supervision of the company. Undoubtedly, the field workers servicing the customers have to undergo a certification before they even speak to them. But it is easier to expand if you have local partners; they know the law of the land well," he says.
Mehra states that earlier, people used to buy the dish from a bigger city and then install it in smaller towns. This method works fine but only till a problem arises.
The third cog in the process is to get relevant services and applications for the customers. For Tata Sky, this is when value added services such as Actve English, Actve Vedic-Maths and Actve Fun Learn came into the picture. These applications are very popular in smaller towns. Mehra says, "It is available everywhere, but the tonality and relevance of teaching simple English/Maths is such that it has more takers in small town India."
The company has also repackaged some content because rural customers are opting for Hindi content over English. These plans and packages are equally available in urban markets, though. Tata Sky is also trying to provide gaming options (simple ones such as Sudoku) for these customers. The insight is just as simple: unlike urban homes, these kids don't have smartphones, iPods and computers at their disposal.
Another important aspect is the availability of the electronic programme guide or EPG (which is the menu or list of channels and genres that one sees on the television) in Hindi, since late 2008. It was learnt that the company is even looking at making it available in a few more regional languages. The company has set up call centres in nine different places (accents), so that someone calling from Himachal will get a response in a Himachali accent.
The company believes that one cannot take an urban product, decrease the price and sell it in the rural market. The customers in both urban and rural India are very value conscious. At this juncture, the company has its reach in nearly 36,000 towns that cater to the rural markets of India.
Here's another side to the story: DTH signals deter whenever there is heavy rainfall. Many of the company's target regions are plagued by heavy monsoons. Mehra calls this a "fundamental technology issue" that affects the whole world. "As per the KU band technology used by DTH, signals start refracting in heavy rains. Due to this, not enough signals fall on the dish which is installed on the terrace. But, it is a temporary issue and the signals are automatically restored in a few minutes. As far as the rains are concerned, almost all the DTH users know that the moment rains get milder, the signals will come back," he says. Of the total viewing time across India, the company claims, 99.4-99.5 per cent is undisturbed.
The insight used in the TVC, afaqs! learns, came from customer feedback. A viewer asked Mehra, "When telecom has reached every part of the country, why not DTH? A phone needs a telecom tower. DTH doesn't even need that." Well, is this effort consciously being made now, ahead of the digitisation sunset date? Nagpal counters, "Whenever a product is brought into a country, it starts from the cities and is then moved to the deeper pockets. As for digitisation, we have been digitising for seven years."
DTH has a very unique usage pattern in India. While abroad people use the service to get some extra content (say, some specific sports league rights or certain TV shows), in India DTH is used as a replacement of cable services, in search of better viewing quality. But the content stays the same. So in India, DTH services are about customer service, viewing quality and value added services.
Smaller towns need DTH as much for quality as the urban viewers do, insists Mehra. "Smaller towns are also looking at DTH. It is quite evident from the fact that they buy smartphones over feature phones and they prefer LEDs to 'normal' TVs. Their quest for better quality is pushing DTH over cable and MSO services in the deeper markets," he explains.
Tata Sky's 'Showcase' (a special service wherein newly released movies are available in satellite quality to the consumers) has been very well-received in the rural markets. The company is considering building an advertising stream targeted to this area.