Cable operators feel the Covid-19 lockdown pinch, lose subscribers

Above 77 per cent of cable and multi-system operators expect revenues to drop from 25-32 per cent in 2020-21.
TV viewership has recorded a surge during the lockdown. However, the picture isn’t too rosy for cable operators.


Close to 41 per cent of cable operators said subscribers have deleted channels from their package to cut costs. Sale of new boxes (connections) dropped 75 per cent of the cable operators, while collections nosedived 84 per cent of them since the lockdown was announced.


This was caused either by people not paying, or by a shortage of staff to collect the money since many have returned to their hometowns.


Above 77 per cent of cable and multi-system operators expect revenues to drop from 25-32 per cent in 2020-21.


 These are insights from the ‘Cable Fitness Test’ — a study based on a survey of 92 multi-system operators or cable companies. These operators service a huge portion of India’s 100-million odd cable homes. Of the country’s 197 million TV homes, a little over 100 million subscribe to cable, with others using DTH or other services.


Intelligent Insights or Intin, a business intelligence firm founded by Ashok Venkatramani, former CEO of ABP News Network, conducted the study during the first half of May 2020.


Venkatramani was surprised because “collections were not yet automated and digital”, and also by the “low number of operators offering internet services”.


What makes it peculiar is that co-axial cable — used to send TV signals — is among the best broadband pipe there is. A firm that offers both cable and internet gets 50-100 per cent better revenues per user. However, only 57 per cent cable companies offer broadband and are far from being the primary providers.


India has a massive 625 million broadband users, but only a fraction of this is served by cable firms. What should be noted is that bulk of the broadband services that drives OTT or TV consumption in the US, is supplied by large cable firms like Comcast.


What does not come as a surprise, though, is the broad trend on viewership and revenue. Broadcast Audience Research Council, or BARC, data has shown viewership growth of 20-30 per ever since the lockdown began. The ‘Cable Fitness Study’ corroborates this, and other broad trends from the BARC data.


For instance, demand for news, movie channels, and (free) cable channels has surged while that for general entertainment and sports has slumped. BARC data shows a drop in advertising volumes, with broadcasters reporting a 20-40 per cent drop in values.


It is a gory picture for now.


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