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Online services on DTH are currently at a stage where SMS was in late 1990s

by Satrajit Sen

A number of online companies like Shaadi.com, MakeMyTrip.com and BookMyShow.com have partnered with various DTH (Direct-to-Home) operators to expand their customer base and reach consumers who might not have access to internet. But how far this partnership between the online companies and the DTH operators has performed? AlooTechie spoke to some of these online companies and DTH operators to know about their experiences, challenges and future of this synergic move.

by Satrajit Sen

A number of online companies like Shaadi.com, MakeMyTrip.com and BookMyShow.com have partnered with various DTH (Direct-to-Home) operators to expand their customer base and reach consumers who might not have access to internet. But how far this partnership between the online companies and the DTH operators has performed? AlooTechie spoke to some of these online companies and DTH operators to know about their experiences, challenges and future of this synergic move.

Gourav Rakshit, business head, Shaadi.com, said that the company’s relationship with Dish TV has brought a segment of non-internet enabled users within the Shaadi.com ecosystem. “It has also found favour with our existing internet member base, a large number of whom have specifically requested to get themselves profiled on the Dish TV platform. We currently receive over 300 subscription enquiries per day, and we estimate that over 10 times that number are browsing the service,” informed Rakshit.

Citing reasons for tying up with online companies to provide their services on DTH platform, Sugato Banerji, chief marketing officer, Airtel digital TV, said, “In the absence of TV-content exclusivity in the DTH space, we are seeking to create a competitive and compelling differentiator in the market for our product through interactive services like these. Moreover, when we launched our DTH service in October 2008, we promised to bring magical entertainment into the homes of Indian TV households. Backed by a technologically superior product, we have today delivered on that promise.”

According to Banerji, Airtel DTH’s iTV has been powered by several online companies such as MakeMyTrip.com and BookMyShow.com. “All these partnerships have benefitted us in three ways – firstly, it has created a competitive brand differentiation on content for us in a highly competitive market; secondly, it has helped us reach the tech-savvy and mature consumer who is also incidentally a high ARPU (average revenue per user) consumer and finally, it has been a source of additional revenue generation for us.”

When asked how this partnership between an online company and a DTH platform has performed so far, Roopesh Shah, head, marketing, BookMyShow.com, informed that the service has been operating for a long enough time without any apparent success and the move has not been successful in gaining more users for BookMyShow.

However, Deep Kalra, founder and CEO, MakeMyTrip.com, which has a partnership with Airtel digital TV, said, “This is a relatively new medium and both the consumers and the interactivity of the platform need to evolve for it to translate into substantial volumes. For now, we are happy to note the visibility that the DTH platform provides us along with providing an innovative medium for customers to access information.”

According to Kalra, with the expansion of the Airtel digital TV network as well as the increased adoption by consumers to use the interactive services on their television sets, the performance of this deal has been improving fast. “We consider this move as an investment into a new medium, providing our consumers the opportunity to search, plan and buy travel packages through interactive services on their television,” said Kalra.

Speaking about the present state of the online services that are available on the DTH platform, Sugato Banerji of Airtel digital TV said, “Today, interactive services on a DTH platform are where SMS was in the late 1990s. SMS is a service and feature of your mobile service that is ubiquitous and taken for granted today. Interactive services on DTH are also a value added service on DTH that will have its own challenges of adoption. However, made relevant and compelling, they have a strong case of success.”

Citing challenges of operating on the DTH platform, Roopesh Shah of BookMyShow.com opined that an online transactional service depends on interactivity to sell inventory and if the DTH platform can enable that interactivity using some intelligent interactive voice response (IVR) or dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) service over phone, that can potentially result in success.

“The real challenge is to get consumers of the content to recall the fact that these services are actually available on the TV itself. Having done that, we also need to display the fact that the service is actually as close to the real online service as possible. In the case of transactional services, the seamlessness of order completion is the only option to successfully run the service,” added Shah.

Gourav Rakshit of Shaadi.com said, “The primary challenge we faced was around delivering a relevant service, while keeping some of the key constraints of the television medium in mind which include a limitation on how much data the service can hold and the amount of content that is reasonable to consume through a television screen. In fact, we had a few iterations on the service before we launched a product which we felt best delivers the service.”

Presenting the operator’s point of view, Sugato Banerji of Airtel digital TV said that there are three typical challenges to run such services on the DTH platform. “First challenge is of finding out a relevant service. It is difficult to find an application which is relevant and compelling for the customer to engage with. Secondly, delivering the completeness of the experience is a challenge. Currently, customers using our iTravel service can see the range of travel packages available but can’t complete their experience with a transaction to purchase. The transaction has to take place offline and that is a challenge. And finally, increasing customer awareness about the benefits of these services is another big challenge,” he added.

When asked which of the different verticals of online services do well on the DTH platform, Banerji said that the adoption rates of all Airtel DTH’s interactive services are still at a nascent stage and it will require a concentrated investment from all parties to make them ubiquitous. However, he also felt that any service, as long as it offers a compelling reason for the customer to engage with it, is suited to the DTH platform.

According to Roopesh Shah of BookMyShow, in India, there is a large part of the DTH population that does not have PC at home or at least has a PC but is not online. This audience can certainly and immediately benefit from the DTH platform’s continuous connectivity. He further said that services targeted towards this audience would essentially find acceptance.

“The sheer volume of data that can be broadcast is far larger than what broadband connections are currently capable. By virtue of this, and coupled with security through subscriber IDs, simple banking functionalities like tracking an account can be well experimented on the DTH platform. This opens the usage to a very large and useful audience who would otherwise track the account from an ATM,” Shah added.

Deep Kalra of MakeMyTrip opined that travel is the biggest e-commerce category in India and he expected it to gain traction with consumers on this emerging channel. However, according to Gourav Rakshit of Shaadi.com, services which have relatively slow changing data, like Shaadi.com’s matrimonial profile information are more likely to succeed than say a live stock-trading service.

“It is important for companies to understand the specific nuances of the interactive television platform and then develop a service customized for users of this medium. To slap on an existing online service onto the interactive television medium without the necessary contextualization would be akin to trying to win the derby on a donkey,” Gourav Rakshit said.

Commenting on the future of this synergic move, Deep Kalra said that online services on DTH will be in the investment mode for another year or two before they reach critical mass and become commercially viable channels for all players. According to Sugato Banerji, with the increasing digitization of television in the country and the increasing maturity of TV consumption habits, we will see customers moving away from broadcast channels to consuming non-linear and interactive services like these.

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