“Win hearts, and you have all men’s hands and purses.”
– William Cecil Burleigh
“Nazdeeki fayda dekhne se pehle door ka nuksan sochna chahiye.”
– Amitabh Bachchan in Sarkar
I’m very disappointed with the leading DTH (Direct-To-Home) service providers in India, namely Tata Sky and Dish TV. And no, it’s not (just) because of their poor customer care, hidden charges, frequent changes to channel packages, slow response to technical problems and so on. All of that can be improved with time. What really disappoints me is the approach of the service providers – their desire to achieve short term gains through confusing customers, denying them choice and binding them to their service through unfair trade practices, at the cost of long term customer satisfaction and their brand image and that of the DTH industry.
When the DTH industry took birth in India in 2002-03, Cable TV operators were ruling the roost and viewers, fed up with heavy (and non-refundable) installation charges, poor signal quality and unable to choose the channels they wanted to receive, were desperate for a more customer-focused alternative. Added to that, the high-handed attitude of the Cable operators and the inability of customers to switch operators did nothing to help matters. The whole world was waiting to be won, literally.
Trust Indians to look for short-term gains while neglecting long term losses. This is evident in every aspect of our life, from our politics, to the way we drive on the streets, to the way we do business. Everyone’s looking for quick shortcuts to success, quick means to an end.
Following are some reasons why DTH has not caught on in India the way it should have:
1. Monopolistic attitude of DTH operators: One would’ve thought the DTH operators would’ve done their research and understood the prime reason why viewers would want to shift to DTH – freedom of choice! Freedom to choose channels which they want to see and pay for only those, and freedom to change their DTH operator if they so wish, without having to reinvest in new equipment. The absence of this is the prime reason why viewers haven’t exactly been flocking to DTH operators.
2. Lack of standards: As of today, a Dish TV user shifting to Tata Sky or vice versa would have to throw away their existing set-top box (STB) and get a new one from the new operator, as different operators’ STBs aren’t interoperable. I don’t understand why there can’t be standards for DTH STBs at least, so that any STB would work with any DTH service (ideally with CAS and IPTV as well). Customers shouldn’t have to change their STB and dish antenna if they want to shift from, say, Dish TV to Tata Sky. Just as a mobile user can change his operator by just changing the SIM, without having to discard the phone.If STBs were to be standardized, this would go a long, long way in increasing consumer confidence (freedom of choice, you see!) in DTH and I have no doubt that the benefits of this for the DTH operators would by far outweigh the detriments, if any. The broadcasting infrastructure is already in place, and thus more viewers implies greater profits without any additional per-viewer investment.
3. Poor customer service: Both Dish TV and Tata Sky seem to be suffering from this, as a survey of MouthShut reviews indicates, but Dish TV seems to be much worse than Tata Sky in this regard. Apparently, it sometimes takes weeks for their personnel to come and attend to new connections. They take quite long to respond to STB problems as well, during which time the viewer is stranded! Their customer care lines are supposed to be perpetually busy and it’s very difficult to get through to a customer care person. And even if you do, many of them are very poorly trained in debugging or troubleshooting problems at the other end.
4. Unfair trade practices: Following are some examples:
a. You own the STB, we own the dish: Currently, Tata Sky customers need to buy the STB from them by paying Rs. 1499/-, and thereafter it is the property of the customer. An additional payment of Rs. 1000/- needs to be made towards installation charges, which includes the dish antenna charges. The dish, however, remains the property of Tata Sky! What use is the STB without the dish, one might ask!!!
b. No a la carte channels: If I remember correctly, in a ruling in September last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) directed DTH operators to offer a la carte channels to viewers in addition to bouquets. However, I hardly see any a la carte channels in DTH operators’ packages (only Ten Sports on Tata Sky and TV5 Monde on Dish TV). Wasn’t the prime argument in favor of DTH that customers would be able to choose exactly the channels they wanted and pay only for those?
c. Frequent changes in channel packages: The best example of how DTH operators restructure their channel packages to make more profits, and then shamelessly advertise it as “giving better choice to consumers”, is the recent dispute between ESPN Star and Tata Sky over the latter moving three ESPN Star channels (ESPN, Star Sports and Star Cricket) out of its base package to a separate “Sports Platinum” add-on package.Tata Sky has been heavily advertising its new Family Package that costs Rs. 200 a month (down from Rs. 250 earlier), conveniently ignoring the fact that the same pack now doesn’t include the above three sports channels PLUS Ten Sports (now a la carte) and BBC World (part of Lifestyle Silver pack). So, if you were to take these channels along with the same base package, the net cost works out about 10% higher than before for the same number of channels! Very disappointing from Tata Sky.
d. Free-to-air channels aren’t free: Free-to-air (FTA) channels are supposed to be, well, free! But apparently that isn’t the case with Tata Sky. If your subscription has ended, you will stop receiving even FTA channels until you renew! I’m sure the DTH operators get money from the FTA channels to carry them on their transponders and can definitely offer them to free to viewers, as DD Direct Plus does.
These are a few of the points that I could think of. There must be more. It’s surprising that these big companies with their talented and highly-paid management failed to realise this simple fact of life: you can fool all people some of the time and some people all the time, but you can’t fool all people all the time!
For now, viewers can only wait for Reliance Big TV DTH and Airtel Digital TV DTH to start operations and hope that this will bring about more competition, a fall in prices and basically a better deal for customers.
Watch this space…