Three of the five paid DTH platforms in India — Tata Sky, Airtel Digital and D2h — have announced multi TV, or multiple connection, plans under the new TV channel tariff regime implemented by TRAI this month.
The new schemes, which give discounts on a subscriber’s second, third and fourth connections at their home, were announced after TRAI came out with a clarification permitting DTH and cable operators to give discounts on ‘network charges’ for customers buying more than one connection.
“The Regulation provides a capping of Rs 130 as Network Capacity Fee (NCF) for 100 SD channels and Rs 20 for the slab of next 25 SD channels,” TRAI said two weeks ago. “It does not prohibit the service providers to offer discount or lower Network Capacity Fee for second/ additional connections in same location/ home.”
The clarification was required as the new TRAI tariff regime recognizes each connection as a separate subscription. Moreover, DTH and cable operators have to pay content charges for each connection, whether or not the connections are in the same house or not.
In other words, if the same person activates Star Sports 1 — priced Rs 22 — on two Tata Sky connections at his home, then Tata Sky has to pay the subscription amount two times to Star, without any discount.
This was not the case earlier. Before the latest tariff scheme, DTH and cable operators were not required to pay content charges to channel owners based on the number of subscribers. Instead, they simply paid a fixed amount irrespective of how many people watched the channel.
Because of this, players like Tata Sky used to offer deep discounts on multiple connections. The DTH provider, for example, used to give a flat rate of Rs 250 for each additional connection. A customer would get all the pay channels active on the primary connection on the second connection without paying anything extra.
However, the new tariff regime makes it impossible to make such an offer.
For example, if a subscriber activates pay channels worth Rs 1,200 on his primary connection, Tata Sky would be required to pay Rs 1,000 to channel owners as content charges.
Now, if the same subscriber gets all those same channels on his second connection as well, then Tata Sky would have to pay Rs 2,000 to the channel owners. Hence, it can no longer give an offer of mirroring the content of the first connection on the second connection for a fixed fee of Rs 250.
MULTI-TV DISCOUNT ONLY ON NETWORK CHARGE
It is in this situation that TRAI announced that multi-TV discounts would apply to the network charge, and not to the pay TV or content charge.
Content charges are determined by broadcasters, rather than DTH or cable players, and cable and DTH providers cannot offer discount on content charges.
Subsequent to the clarification, three of the five paid DTH platforms have withdrawn their earlier schemes and announced new multi-TV plans focusing on the network charge component, instead of the content or pay TV charge.
The simplest schemes so far have been announced by D2h and Airtel Digital, while the most complicated scheme has been announced by Tata Sky.
D2H MULTI TV SCHEME
D2h users have to pay a network charge of just Rs 50, plus tax of Rs 9, for each additional multi-TV connection in the same home, irrespective of number of channels activated on these additional connections.
This can lead to a saving of as much as Rs 250-300 per month for the customer, depending on the number of channels activated on the subsequent connections.
D2h’s scheme will be especially beneficial for those who want to use their primary connection largely or only for watching free channels, while using the second connection for watching pay channels.
In such a case, the total cost of the first connection will come only to around Rs 150 as there are no pay channels activated on it.
The second connection, meanwhile, will get a flat network charge of Rs 50.
On this second connection, the customer can activate 200 or 300 channels, and still pay only Rs 50 as the network charge. Only the content charges have to be paid extra on the second connection.
The only downside to the scheme is that if any pay channel is activated on the first connection, that also gets activated on the second connection, and the customer ends up paying for the same channel twice. At least, that is what D2h seems to be stating in its multi TV terms and conditions:
“Subscriber will be offered the mirror channels (same channels as that of the parent connection),” it says. However, D2h adds that it won’t be an exact mirror, as the customer can activate “any channel / bouquet” on the second connection.
In other words, it seems that any pay channel activated on the first connection gets activated on the second one, but any pay channel activated on the second TV does not get activated on the first. In other words, it’s a one-way mirror.
As such, D2h’s scheme creates maximum savings when the first connection has zero or or one or two pay channels active.
Airtel Digital TV’s multiple connection offer is also somewhat similar, but differs in some crucial aspects.
First, Airtel does not speak of any ‘mirroring’ of channels across the multiple connections. From the wording of the scheme, it doesn’t seem that if you activate a particular channel on one connection, it will not get activated on other connections.
This can help save money in case each TV needs to have a different set of pay channels activated.
For example, while the living room TV may require entertainment, music and children’s channels, the bedroom TV may only need movies and sports on it.
With no mirroring, the customer does not have to pay multiple times for a pay channel that is activated on only one TV. Instead he or she can turn off the unnecessary pay channels on each TV, which could result in substantial savings.
There is, however, a downside to Airtel’s multi-TV offer too. While D2h offers a ‘flat network charge’ of Rs 59 and unlimited discount on subsequent connections, Airtel offers a ‘flat discount’ of Rs 59 on each subsequent connection.
In other words — under D2h scheme, you will never pay more than Rs 59 as network charge for secondary connections, no matter how many channels you activate.
But under Airtel’s scheme — your network charge on your second connection will keep on increasing as you add more and more channels.
The only advantage to Airtel’s multi-TV scheme, compared to buying two separate connections, is that you get a discount of Rs 59 on the network charge of your additional connections. Of course, there will be no discount on the charges payable on your primary connection.
For example, if you have only 100 channels on the second connection, your network charge should come to Rs 153.40. However, because of the discount of Rs 59, you need to pay only Rs 94.40.
Similarly, if you have 120 channels on your second connection, your network charge should come to Rs 187. However, you get a discount of Rs 59, and you need to pay only Rs 128 as network charge.
On D2h, you pay only Rs 59 as the network charge in both cases.
It should be kept in mind that all these discounts and calculations do not impact pay channel costs. They have to be paid at the same rate, whether it is a second connection or a primary connection.
The only advantage to linking the two connections on Airtel is that you get a discount of Rs 59. Otherwise, the two connections function like independent subscriptions.
However, because of the lack of ‘mirroring’, Airtel’s multi-TV may turn out to be more economical than D2h’s offer if the customer needs to activate pay channels on the primary connection, and not just free-to-air channels.
For example, if the primary connection needs to have Hindi entertainment, movies and kids channels activated, and the second connection needs to have only sports, infotainment and English movies activated, Airtel’s scheme may work better than D2h.
Finally, Tata Sky too has announced a multi-TV plan.
Tata Sky’s scheme is different from both that of D2h and Airtel Digital, and even more complicated to understand than the above two.
The scheme differs from others’ scheme in the following ways:
First, on Tata Sky, if you want to activate a pay channel on any TV under the scheme, you have to activate it on all other TVs as well.
In other words, if you activate a sports pack on your bedroom TV, you also need to activate the same pack on your living room TV and your bathroom TV as well.
This kind of mirroring is different from that of D2h.
While D2h has a one-way mirroring from the primary connection to the secondary connection, Tata Sky’s mirroring is complete and ‘two-way’.
In other words, all the TVs will have the exact same channels active. No choice is possible.
This has implications for monthly costs, as any pay channel that any person in the household wants to see will be activated on all the connections.
Therefore, if grandma wants to watch Bhajan channel on her TV, then it has to be activated on the living room connection, the bedroom TV and the bathroom TV as well.
Similarly, if a Rs 150 sports pack has to be activated on the bedroom TV, it will actually cost around Rs 450 because it gets activated on all three TVs in the house.
To make matters more complicated, Tata Sky’s wording on its multiple connection scheme is far from clear.
For example, while the TRAI and players like D2h and Airtel clearly spell out the discount in terms of network charges, Tata Sky uses terms like ‘dealer retail price’.
In Tata Sky’s terminology, dealer retail price or DRP seems to refer to the sum total of all pay channel prices contained in the pack. At the same time, it does not include the network charge.
Now, coming to the actual discount scheme, Tata Sky does not give a fixed discount on your second connection.
Instead, your benefits depend on the DRP (total pay channel cost) of your primary connection.
For example, if your primary connection has 40 pay channels costing you Rs 250 per month, then Tata Sky offers you a flat DRP of Rs 300 on your second connection. It also copies all the channels from your primary connection to your secondary connection.
In other words, the total amount payable on your first connection comes to Rs 250 (pay channel DRP) + Rs 154 (network charge), or Rs 404 per month.
While the DRP on your first connection is Rs 250, Tata Sky offers you a flat DRP of Rs 300 on your second connection (see chart below).
From the plan details, it is not clear why someone would want to pay a higher DRP for the second connection. But it seems to have something to do with a discount on the network charge for the second connection.
According to reports from the ground, there will be no separate network charge on the second connection. You only need to pay the DRP for the second connection, and not the network charge. However, this is not mentioned in the terms and conditions, and may be a bug.
If you think that’s going to reduce your overall bill drastically, keep in mind that Tata Sky activates all the pay channels you require on all your connections, thus increasing the total pay channel costs.
In other words, what you gain in terms of lower network charge (if the feature is not a bug) is lost in terms of higher pay channel costs because of replication.
Moreover, there’s no easy way to calculate how much you are saving with Tata Sky’s multi TV scheme because of their ‘slab’ scheme (see the chart above).
In the chart above, the first column (Primary Connection DRP) represents the total pay channel cost of your main connection, while the second column (MultiTV DRP) shows the total pay channel costs of your subsequent connections.
As you can see, both are interlinked because Tata Sky copies your pay channel subscriptions on all TVs. Unlike in case of D2h and Airtel, you cannot activate a channel on a child connection without activating it on the primary connection and all other child connections.
According to the slab system, if your end up purchasing pay channels (DRP) worth Rs 400-500 on your main connection, you have to pay a flat DRP of Rs 400 on your second and third connection. What is not clear is how much network charge you have to pay on the second and third connection, if at all.
Tata Sky’s scheme benefits situations in which all the TVs must have access to the same set of channels. For example, in a hostel with four rooms, each of which must have the same set of channels available, or a house in which everyone watches all the channels.
However, if each TV does not need to have the same set of channels, then it may turn out to be more expensive than a scheme like that of Airtel Digital or D2h, as you can turn off the channels you don’t require on each TV, saving substantial amounts in pay channel costs.