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Dish Media Network Limited (DMNL), the operator of the direct-to-home (DTH) brand DishHome, is all set issue 2.38 million units of shares in initial public offering (IPO) by the end of April. With the IPO, Nepal’s first Direct-to-Home (DTH) service provider, which also owns the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service SIM TV, will be the first broadcast company to get listed in the Nepali stock market. “This will be a historic moment for us. If all goes as planned, we will issue shares to the general public by April,” says Sudeep Acharya, managing director of DMNL. The company made its IPO plan public in mid-2017 but it was delayed due to various reasons including the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

DishHome was formed in 2010 after the merger of two companies-- Dish Nepal and Home TV. The merger gave a new lease of life to both the companies as they were facing huge losses and it had become difficult for them to survive due to the high operating costs associated with the running of satellite TV services. “We had entered into this business with little knowledge of operating satellite RV services which created difficulties for us to sustain the business,” recalls Acharya.

Both companies found it a challenge to manage their finances, human resource, technology, and also lacked other expertise needed to run digital TV services. After the merger, the company was able to bring in foreign investment which became a turning point for the company. In 2012, Sandmartin International Holding Ltd, a Taiwan and Hong Kong-based satellite TV company, became the major stakeholder in Dish Media Network. With this, the company not only got the much-needed funds, but was also able to use the latest technology to work towards digital innovation in satellite TV broadcasting.

Another turning point for DMNL came in 2015, when the company migrated its broadcast to a new satellite to provide a wider range of services to more customers. “Prior to that move, we had limited space and weren’t able to broadcast many channels. But with the migration, we were able to reach out to a high number of customers with new and broader services,” says Acharya.

An agent of change in TV watching culture
Prior to 2014, there were no HD channels broadcasting in Nepal. As the cable operators were providing services in analogue format, viewers had no option other than to watch TV channels in lower picture quality. It was DishHome which started broadcasting HD channels in the country bringing massive changes in the TV viewing experience of people in Nepal. Acharya claims that customers of DishHome can experience quality services, both in terms of audio as well as video, at affordable prices. “No other digital TV service provider in Nepal has been able to offer quality on-par with our services,” he says.

Dish Media Network is also viewed as a company which helped the government to lay the foundation for regulatory reforms in domestic TV broadcast services. In the past, the cable TV business in Nepal was largely unregulated which was one of the reasons for the low picture quality of television channels.  “A decade ago, there were about 700 cable operators in the country, but the government didn’t have any data on distribution, payment, and number of subscribers. After digital TV services were started, things began to become transparent,” says Acharya, adding, “We can feel that the work of TV services providers has become prestigious now.”

Priority to innovation
Being a technology-based company, innovation has been a priority for DishHome. Since the beginning, the investors and management of Dish Media have focused on the need to be dynamic as much as possible to thrive and gain that extra mile. Thus, the company has been continuously trying to develop new services, TV channels, contents and bringing the latest technology to the Nepali market. In this respect, Dish Media Network has started to provide internet service to its customers along with TV services. In February 2020, the company launched a high-speed internet service called DishHome Fibernet. Though the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown imposed by the government last year obstructed their distribution plans to some extent, the company has been able to expand the internet service to half of Kathmandu valley. Although Kathmandu centric at the moment, the company is planning to expand internet services towards the eastern parts and some big cities by 2021.

Similarly, the company has started Pay-per-view (PPV), a pay television service in which subscribers can purchase selected contents to view as private telecasts. Currently, the company has DishHome Cinemaghar as PPV. The service allows subscribers to watch new movies from their homes at the same time the movies are released in cinema halls.

The company has also started broadcasting popular Korean series dubbed in Nepali language via its channel DishHome Reality TV. “We are receiving great response for our Korean series,” shares Acharya.

Similarly, the company has introduced the DishHome Go application which allows subscribers to watch television programmes on their mobile phones and personal computers. Currently, 70 TV channels are available for viewing via the app.

Recently, the company launched XVOD, a streaming video-on-demand service for its customers. Acharya informs that this service is available to all DishHome users who connect their set-top box to the internet. Users will be able to stream videos of their choice in four segments including Nepali movies, English movies, TV series and contents for kids.

Besides, a separate entity named Digital Home International (DHI), which has investment from investors and promoters of Dish Media Network, has been manufacturing set-top boxes in Nepal since 2019. Acharya says that the demand for set-top boxes is growing in the country with the rapid expansion of digital TV and internet services. Till now, the company has distributed some 300,000-350,000 set-top boxes.

Network and market presence
Dish Media Network has expanded DTH services all across the country and plans to expand its internet service to the eastern part of the country and major cities by 2021. Currently, the company has 1.5 million subscribers throughout the country.

According to Acharya, DishHome commands 45 to 50 percent of the share in the Nepali DTH market. It has more than 20,000 recharge cards selling and fund transfer outlets and a network of about 3,500 data distribution centres. Additionally, the company has service centres in all seven provinces.

Dish Media Network has been providing employment to 600 to 700 people directly, whereas an additional 200 are working for the company at its call centres and other areas through outsourcing means.

Lack of support from government
Acharya says that it has become difficult for DTH and FTTH services providers like Dish Media, especially after the implementation of the Clean Feed policy last year, to broadcast foreign TV channels in the country.

“But foreign DTH services are being distributed illegally in different parts of the country. During a recent visit to Biratnagar, I found that some stores in the Main Road area are openly selling antennas and peripherals of Indian DTH services like Airtel and Tata Sky. The government needs to control such activities,” he urges.  

According to Acharya, such problems were prevalent during the company’s formative years which they addressed later on using different strategies such as offering customers DishHome services for free in exchange of the Indian DTHs. “Indian DTHs were massively used in the Terai region back then. I think, of the estimated one million Indian DTH subscribers in the country, we helped 250,000 to subscribe to Nepali DTH at that time,” he claims.

Acharya expresses his dissatisfaction that the same problem still persists despite the efforts of companies like Dish Media and that the government hasn’t done much even though they have held discussions with the authorities concerned to address the issues.

According to him, Clean Feed has erected a huge challenge in front of Nepali TV service providers. The growth in the number of subscribers is dwindling as most TV operators in Nepal are dependent on foreign content providers and many TV channels have not appeared in the country after the implementation of the policy.

In order to increase viewership, the television content should be good. But due to the lack of investment, is difficult for Nepali TV channels to develop content that can attract subscribers. “Clean Feed would not be a problem to us if subscriptions are increased for domestic content. However, the lack of investment in Nepali content is not allowing the viewership to increase,” opines Acharya. He estimates that the number of Nepali DTH operators has gone down by 600,000 - 700,000 after the implementation of the Clean Feed policy.

In order to cope with the situation, the company is working to bring back popular TV channels that have ceased broadcasting in Nepal in recent months and to broadcast new channels. The Indian news channel NDTV, which stopped its broadcast after the implementation of Clean Feed, began to air again from DishHome in late January. Similarly, the company has also started broadcasting 10 European channels.

Offers and packages
Over the years, Dish Media Network has introduced numerous schemes and packages that have helped the company to propel its subscriber base. Recently, they have started offering a bundled package consisting of television and internet to customers. The company has been offering attractive discounts in yearly subscription packages so that the customers do not have to keep recharging their set-top boxes. Also, they are providing a hefty discount of almost 30 percent in DishHome recharge.

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