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CTH Recalibrates Around Pay-TV

CTH, Thailand’s second-largest pay-TV operator, is continuing its search for a sustainable business model, refocusing its sights on premium sports rights and international content in a country where TV dynamics have shifted dramatically from paid to free models in recent years.

“We are getting back to focusing on the pay-TV business,” CTH’s recently appointed CEO, Amarit Sukhavanij (pictured), told attendees at last week’s Thailand TV and Video Industry Forum, an event staged by Media Partners Asia (MPA).

“That means we have to deliver new desirable content, give them good value-for-money pricing, and also give them the best service,” Amarit said.

“Especially on the last part, we have not been able to do that,” he added.

CTH has already explored multiple business models since launching as a content aggregator for local cable networks five years ago, operating as a mixed MSO and DTH service today after merging with DTH provider GMM Z last year.

CTH only has direct access to a small minority of subs on its cable network, which has made it difficult to recoup some hefty content investments placed in the past.

These included US$300 million for three years of Barclays Premier League (BPL) football as well as a multi-year licensing deal for around 20 linear channels from Fox, both made in a bid to weaken the grip of Thailand’s pay-TV incumbent, TrueVisions, run by telecoms group True.

CTH efforts to roll out broadband services via its cable partners last year also struggled to gain traction.

Better marketing

Amarit is reining in CTH’s triple-play ambition, at least for the short term, to focus instead on improving the company’s core pay-TV proposition, revisiting fundamentals such as billing, pricing and packaging.

“Buying content alone is not enough. That is what we found in the past,” he said.

“What we are trying to do now is get more customer engagement,” he added. “We have to market our content better.”

Despite disappointing returns from existing BPL rights, Amarit still wants CTH to defend its hold on the league, as around half of current subscribers have signed up to watch the games.

“We have to find ways to make it profitable,” he stressed.

At the same time, CTH’s new boss is keen to build up the channel offer for women and families, with a particular focus on entertainment, kids and news, while bolstering multiscreen and on-demand services, to strengthen subscriber loyalty.

“That’s why we did the deal with DreamWorks,” Amarit said, referring to the global debut of the US animations studio’s first-ever linear channel on CTH earlier in the month.

“It’s not just about what’s on-screen,” he explained. “It’s about other things around the brand.”

CTH has also signed carriage deals for Hits, Nick Jr and Warner TV.

To succeed, Amarit must buck current industry trends in Thailand where the market for premium pay-TV has remained relatively static over the last decade or so.

Basic tier subs have seen some uplift, largely via utility cable networks, while multi-channel penetration via free satellite has surged ahead.

Additionally, last year saw the launch of 24 digital terrestrial channels, competing for eyeballs with hundreds of existing freesat channels as well as Thailand’s two formidable free-to-air leaders, Channel 3 and Channel 7.

Forecasts from MPA suggest that pay-TV services will attract relatively few new subscribers in the foreseeable future, with pay-TV penetration projected to rise at a 1.6% CAGR from 2014 to 2019, from 28.4% to 30.2% of TV homes.

True meanwhile won’t cede ground willingly, looking to amortize sport and entertainment investment across free and pay channels, while consolidating its hold on the market for pay-TV advertising.

The telco secured two DTT licenses of its own, one for a variety channel and one for news.

At the same time, ratings success for rival DTT offering Mono29, programmed around US movies and dramas, has highlighted the audience appeal of international content.

Meanwhile, some international channel operators are rethinking the value of exclusive deals, as new distribution dynamics take shape.

That’s one area where CTH and True will be going head-to-head, as both attempt to reclaim Thailand’s weakened market for premium pay-TV.

“There’s one channel known as the mini TrueVisions,” ruefully noted TrueVisions’ chief commercial officer, Birathon Kasemsri, speaking earlier in the day at the same forum.

“I think they did a great job to leverage the traditional positioning that we have, the leadership in international films and series,” Birathon added.

“But they just woke up a sleeping giant.”

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