“The real opportunity in the Indian media will come from digitization of the network" - Amitabh Kumar, director, technology, Essel Group

VoicenData Bureau
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Amitabh Kumar is responsible for deployment of new technologies in the Essel Group. His present focus is media-oriented architecture based on cloud, testing new technologies like mobile TV and TV on new devices, and network digitization.


The Essel group includes companies like Zee Entertainment Enterprises, Zee News, and Dish TV India. He is responsible for directly overseeing the broadcast operations of the Zee Network and Dish TV from its Noida teleport and Singapore broadcast facilities. Today, the group transmits 45 channels to over 200 countries and Kumar is responsible for the international deliveries of the Zee network channels via satellite and fiber.

Prior to Zee, Kumar was director, operations, VSNL (1995-2001) and was also the chairman and MD in 1998-99. Speaking to VOICE&DATA, Amitabh Kumar, director, technology, Essel Group spoke about the challenges and the future direction of Essel Group. Excerpts-

- Amitabh Kumar, director,technology, Essel Group


What are the top challenges faced by the media


These are not challenges but opportunities that the technology is bringing. In India, we are far behind the technology curve, as we still have to reap the benefits of technology. For example, in other countries trials are going towards mobile devices, social media, and over the top TV (OTT) whereas in India, the trend of digitization has just started. The real opportunity in the Indian media will come from digitization of network, as it will help in increasing the reach of network in terms of penetration. For example, all metro homes are planned to be digitized by July, 2012. Digitization will also lead to reasonable increase in revenues, which can be reached by both cable and digital operations through digital TV and set-top box (STB). The digitization is a non-issue in countries like Europe and the US, as their monthly ARPU is around $70 whereas in India it comes around around $3-4. So for the next 3-4 years, the major trend in the media industry will be digitization.


India has given up on terrestrial TV and the same trend is in Europe, but now for the first time it is going down on the terrestrial TV, India is giving 100 MHz to the telecom sector. Terrestrial TV is resource intensive as it requires large number of transmitters to be deployed in each city and each region. India is not planning to go for terrestrial in a big way. So there is an opportunity for digital and cable TV.

How do you see the scope of HDTV in the country?

There would be an increase of HDTV across all media networks whether it is DTH or cable, as standard definition TV are phasing out in many countries. For example, in the US, the Comcast network is only on HDTV. Presently, in India, there are a total of 330 channels of which 40 channels are on HDTV. In case of Zee Network, 4 channels are presently on HDTV. The group is planning to make 10 channels HDTV ready by 2013.


Essel Group has recently launched Ditto TV. What are the plans for it?

Recently, the company has launched OTT by the name of Ditto TV and this is planned for TV on iPads, mobile TV, and TV on laptop or on any connected device. In phase 2, we are planning for Ditto TV on Facebook. On the new technology front, we are at par with whatever that has been launched in the US or Europe. Mobile TV will come via 3G and 4G and that is 4-5 years away. This is a limited application and this will not help in increasing penetration, as worldwide it contributes less than 2% of overall media revenue.

What is the ICT spending of Zee Group and how are you planning to cut down cost?


The technology spending for broadcast operations and IT would be at around `40 crore and this can be clubbed under 3 heads-production, transmission, and handling of file or tape. During the tsunami in Japan, the cost of the tapes increased, so the focus shifted from tapes to file based deliveries across all the major channels. The Zee Group has been an early adopter of file based deliveries and even majority production houses are working on the same model and they are transferred through high-speed leased lines between Mumbai-Delhi and Mumbai-Singapore link.

We are trying to lower down the operational cost by shifting from tape storage to file based deliveries. Our digital asset management is the biggest of its kind in the country, where around 60,000 hours of content has been digitized along with meta data like name of the actors, language, length of the content, and producer of the content.

With respect to international services, around 90% have moved to fiber. This gives a lot of cost saving as fiber costs around 1/4th the price of satellite. For example, Zee UK, Zee Europe, and Zee US are all transmitted on fiber whereas Zee TV South East Asia, Zee TV Middle East, and Zee TV Africa are all on satellite. In satellite, we have higher level of modulation be it MPEG 4 or DVBS-2, which also leads to a lot of cost savings.


Are you planning to adopt cloud computing in your organization?

We are moving towards cloud and our objective is to create a media-oriented architecture in the current year and move to a service-oriented architecture by the next year. We also want to make all our future content in file format and make entire process tapeless, as this will help in easy playout of 30 national and 30 international channels.

In terms of security, we have our own security architecture which is encryption and finger printing, but for OTT we are moving towards watermarking.


How do you see digital rights management (DRM)?

We are moving towards DRM, which can be included in IT Act. DRM cannot be standardized as it has too many types.

Now that convergence is taking place in ICT, how important would it be for TV channels?

Convergence will make a difference for TV channels as it is growing from TV to inter-net and mobile. Mobile TV can be easily hailed as the herald of true convergence. The realization of a successful mobile TV service demands the participation of many players and the establishment of a functional working relationship. These multiple stakeholders need to collaborate to ensure that content is delivered to the target audience. Zee is quite excited as it will be able to produce its archives on sale or for free. This will not only add to the revenues of the company, but also give viewers the power of choice. Availability of 'content on demand' will be the biggest advantage in the aftermath of convergence. Choosing the right partners and clarity in their respective roles in the value chain will be essential in making the integration of various technologies successful. Convergence will help us to grow the platform. TV on the move will be yet another revolution that will not only give a new life to the technologies, but also make the channels leverage this huge opportunity to offer better and updated services from the channels.