Dish TV ropes in 'Dosts' for push in hinterland, expands network

Dish TV has a pool of 4,500-plus Dish Dost entrepreneurs covering more than 70,000 villages
Last mile connectivity is a major bugbear of many service/product delivery businesses that aim to meet the customer at her doorstep. Direct-to-home (DTH) players too seem to be struggling with inadequate infrastructure and high real estate costs as they target underpenetrated rural markets. After a series of trial and error, the country’s largest DTH service provider, Dish TV, has now zeroed in on a new strategy that, it hopes, will limit overhead costs and prevent unnecessary duplication of effort.  

Moving away from the franchisee-led model operative in urban areas — under which subscription, charging/recharging and servicing are treated as three independent functions — Dish TV has integrated these three services as an integrated offering in rural areas. The asset-light distribution strategy is clearly focused on minimising the last mile connectivity cost. “Villages we are targetting are small in population and the business volume is, therefore, low. The idea is to devise a network that survives on low volumes. Hence, unlike urban areas, the number of distribution channels or touchpoints available in rural areas is less. At the same time, we are trying to be as near to our customers as possible,” says Sukhpreet Singh, senior vice-president, marketing, Dish TV India. 

With a subscriber base of 29 million and a market share of 45 per cent, the country’s leading DTH player aims to add 1.5 million incremental users over the next two years. The majority of these users will come from rural areas, anticipates the company. The company sees a big opportunity to make inroads in markets that cannot be serviced easily by feeder towns and where households exhibit a high proportion of free-to-air TV connections. So it is looking at electrified villages with population between 2,000 and 5,000. These are areas with high tele-density but low pay-TV penetration. 

For better focus, Dish TV has mapped states across India into 28 circles. Some of the larger states such as Uttar Pradesh have more than one circle and a few of the smaller states have been clubbed together. In each of the circles, Dish TV has started ramping up its network of Dish Dost that comprises village entrepreneurs who serve as one-stop shops and offer sales, recharge and repair under one roof. Depending on the population of a cluster, the company has set up a distributor centre in the nearest feeder town to offer infrastructure, training and equipment to Dish Dost representatives. 

Sudhanshu Rai, founder, SaintsArt, a strategic communication firm, says an initiative like Dish Dost is definitely an innovation in the DTH segment, but it is not unique as several micro-finance institutions have pursued such modules to grow their business in rural areas. 

Reflecting on the need and the advantages of a network like Dish Dost, Rai says that rural consumers are usually not as informed as their urban counterparts. They need organised and structured information through direct reach. “This can only be delivered through trained representatives who can brief consumers about DTH service usage and its benefits including payment modules. Therefore, DTH players, as part of their omnichannel strategy, have to go deeper into a market and choose multiple push points including very small to big channel partners. They have to provide multiple training modules to enable correct information flow into all strata of buyers,” he says. 

This strategy will help the company penetrate new rural markets at a comparatively lower cost, without taking on the additional burden of setting up big franchisee-led stores that work on a commission. Dish TV has a pool of 4,500-plus Dish Dost entrepreneurs covering more than 70,000 villages. 

The company claims that its network of Dish Dost has helped it make inroads into underpenetrated markets like Sultanpur district in Uttar Pradesh. Dish TV clubbed tehsils such as Amethi, Gauriganj, Jagdishpur, Kadipur, Lambhua, Musafirkhana together to cover about 2,000-plus villages with a population of about 447,000. In all, 35 Dish Dosts were pressed into service to cover all the tehsils. 

Dish TV counts rural areas in states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Punjab as its top five potential markets. Meanwhile, states such as Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh are highly underpenetrated and offer a huge opportunity to expand.

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