How Cable TV began and spread in India

Cable TV has its roots in the late seventies. Indian television viewers were looking for entertainment options, apart from what state-owned broadcaster DD was offering. That came their way with the import and manufacture of video cassette recorders permitted domestically. There was a veritable boom in video cassette recorder sales during this period. Enterprising individuals in apartment blocks placed a video in their homes or their garages and started offering a cable TV service to people who opted for it. The fare available was Hindi and English movies and pirated western comedies, music and game shows. At this stage, cable TV was restricted to the major metros and towns and the upper crust of society.

The impetus for its spread came in 1990 with the advent of the Gulf war. Ted Turner's CNN started beaming news reports of the bombing of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein and sparked off a demand for satellite dishes. Only the affluent could afford them. Some cable operators who had been running their Hindi and English movie channels added dishes and started relaying CNN into homes. This spurred demand for cable TV, making it a lucrative business and it attracted more individuals to the industry.

The launch of Star TV and ZeeTV further fuelled the spread of cable TV. In the first half of 1992, almost 4,500 households were being cabled up daily. That figure increased to 9,450 homes daily in the second half of the year, according to a study conducted by market research firm - Frank Small for Star TV: on how many homes could receive its service. (If one considers that almost all Indian cable homes can receive Star TV because it shares the same platform as Zee TV then the numbers would be a fair representation of the total number of C&S homes at that time because Zee TV has almost 100% penetration in cable homes.) From a mere 412,000 urban households in January 1992, the number of cable homes went up to 1.2 million by November 1992. The number of homes estimated in 1993 was 3.3 million according to the Frank Small study. This is estimated to have gone up to 7.3 million by January 1994, according to one estimate. Frank Small once again surveyed the market in end-1994 and the firm placed the number of cable & satellite homes at 11.8 million out of a total of 32.4 million TV owning homes.

Subsequently, no extensive research was conducted by the industry which went by guesstimates until two readership surveys were conducted in 1995. The two national readership surveys: the Indian Readership Survey and the National Readership Survey pegged the penetration of C&S at below 10 million in 1995 whereas industry estimates placed it at least 14 million. The NRS said that 9.3 million homes in urban India were cabled while the IRS said that the numbers for urban and rural India were 8.4 million and 3.4 million respectively. No further updates have been done because of the magnitude of the research covering a population of almost 70 million TV homes today. Nevertheless, the satellite TV industry has upped its estimate for C&S homes to about 22 million now attributing the increase to the spread of the cable TV networks in smaller towns, villages and untapped developing areas on the outskirts of major metros, where cable TV is being installed in housing at the time of construction itself.

Cable TV growth in urban India

Year Number of households Cabled
January 1992 412,000 *
November 1992 1.2 million *
1993 3.3 million *
January 1994 7.4 million
End-1994 11.8 million *
1995 15 million
1996 18 million
1999 22 million

*Frank Small studies; the rest are industry estimates

The business has undergone a transformation too. In the beginning it was small and driven by entrepreneurs. At one time the cable TV operators population was estimated at a sky high 100,000. Your neighbour's wife and brother-in-law also wanted to be a cable operator. For the past three years, large companies have also set up their own cable networks. Among them: InCablenet (managed by the Hinduja group), Siticable (a joint venture between Zee TV promoter Subhash Chandra and Rupert Murdoch's News Television), Asianet, Hathway Cable & Datcom, Ortel Communications and RPG Netcom (a company promoted by the RPG group). While the Hindujas claim to have invested close to Rs 2000 million into their network building, Siticable talks of a higher figure of close to Rs 2500 million. But the MSOs have concentrated on the major metros only. They have yet to spread out into the smaller towns and the interiors of India over time where cable TV networks are still in the hands of small businessmen.

International cable networking companies such as United International Holdings, TCI and Falcon Cable of the US, have tested the waters: While UIH almost set up a joint venture with the RPG group which did not fructify, TCI/Time Warner discussed possibilities with the Times of India group which were inconclusive. Falcon Cable however, were successful in establishing a joint venture with the Hindustan Times publishing group in New Delhi called India Information Technologies Ltd. An investment of nearly Rs 50 million was made to buy over a few small cable TV networks. The company however did not take charge of the networks, leaving them to be run by the cable operators. The joint venture was in litigation for quite sometime and finally Falcon Cable had to wash its hands off it. International investors and cable TV networks are still place hope in the Indian cable TV market. United International Holdings is in partnership with liquor group UB. Falcon Cable and Cox Communications are meanwhile waiting for some semblance of order in this industry before committing further resources.

The entry of the big boys in the business led to consolidation amongst smaller operators several of whom combined their resources to set up sophisticated headbands capable of delivering 30-50 channels similar to the bouquet of the MSOs. And as the MSOs increased the number of channels that they were offering, the independents have also kept pace. Today, in cities like Mumbai, Indian viewers can hook into more than 65 channels. . Some of the major agglomerations that emerged initially were: Seven Star and Shree Bhawani in Mumbai, Malleswaram Cable Network and UCN in Bangalore, SkyVision in Ahmedabad. By 1999, one of them had partnered with the fast moving Hathway Cable & Datacom. But they all operate on the similar model: franchising of their cable TV feed to smaller operators.

The programming that cable TV offers ranges from Hindi films to local events like fairs, religious discourses, civic elections, regional news, community games such as Bingo and favourite local sports. Practically, every network has at least two cable channels -sometimes both of which screen Hindi movies and songs. At one time they also screened pirated or illegal versions of English movies. This ceased with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) cracking down heavily on these cable operators. But piracy keeps cropping up on cable TV networks the moment the pressure is eased. The larger cable TV networks have their own branded channels too: Siticable has SitiCinema.; InCable has CVO while Hathway has C-News.

That the programming on these cable channels is extremely popular is evident from the audience share they manage to garner. They rank second after DD on this parameter in all cities. As an example cable TV accounted for close to 11.7% of share of the audience in Delhi in 1996 during prime time on Sunday evenings, and 8.4% on weekdays. The numbers for the other cities were 8.4% and 4.6% for Chennai and Mumbai on Sunday evenings and 6.4% for weekdays in Mumbai during prime time. However, they cannot really attract advertising to the extent of their viewership because of the fragmented nature of the cable networks and there being no central body to work as a channelising agent for the thousands of networks in a city. Cable channels attract no more than Rs 250-300 million advertising annually, according to back-of-the-envelope calculations by one of the large MSOs. But the potential is enormous: some even quote the annual ad revenue potential being in the region of some Rs 1200 million, if some efforts are made.


State Penetration (%)
Gujarat 58
Andhra Pradesh 45
Tamil Nadu 41
Karnataka 41
Madhya Pradesh 37
Punjab 34
Maharashtra 33
Orissa 31
Bihar 28
Harayana 27

Source: IMRB study for Sony Entertainment Television

©Copyright; Ambez Media & Market Research, 1999.

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