Sun Direct launches HD as Indian DTH hots up

Rose Major

India’s Sun Direct DTH operation has launched a high-definition package, the first operator to do so in the country, and announced it now has over 3 million subs.

Initially, a two-channel HD package will focus on movies, with one channel in the Tamil language and one in Telugu. But Sun Direct has plans for up to 8 HD channels.

The HD package will cost Rs10,000 (US$199) for the set-top box, made by Samsung, with an additional Rs100 per channel per month. That is additional to the fee for one of Sun Direct’s basic packages.

Sun Direct is hoping to sign up 60,000 to 70,000 HD subscribers in the first year, around a fifth of the 1.5 million LCDs that are forecast to be sold over the next 12 months. Then the platform is hoping that the October 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, which will be available in HD, will give the platform a boost. By then, however, competitiors are likely to have launched their HD offerings. A package from Zee-backed Dish TV is expected later this year, and other operators are unlikely to be far behind.

Aimed at south Indians living all over the sub-continent, Sun Direct is owned by the Maran family with 80% and Malaysia’s Astro with 20%. It launched nationwide just in December last year, and the company says now that around 15% of its subscribers are from outside the south.

Sun Direct now has 3.1 million subs and is forecasting it will double this figure to 6 million over the next year. The company claims that since January it has accounted for 40% of DTH sales and is now the second-placed DTH operator ahead of Tata Sky (which will update subscriber figures shortly and may now have more than 3 million) and behind Dish TV's 5 million.

Sun Direct COO Tony D’Silva said: “This achievement qualifies us to be the No 2 DTH service provider (in India). In the coming fiscal we look to occupy the pole position. We also have the lowest customer churn at 3%.”