Gopal Vittal, Bharti Airtel MD & CEO India & South Asia, shares how the telecom giant is planning to use its digital marketplace capabilities to reach out to more customers With the growing digital penetration in India, telecom giant Bharti Airtel is bullish about its ad-tech platform Airtel Ads which has already onboarded 135+ brands. To bolster the platform, the telco is investing in blockchain capabilities and developing solutions that are compliant with potential regulations around privacy. "Airtel ads is our AdTech platform that leverages all our digital assets. We have 135 plus brands and relationships with all large agencies. The solution here is a consent-based privacy-safe platform that serves one of the biggest pools of quality customers across multiple screens. We are further strengthening this platform by investing in blockchain capabilities and developing solutions that address privacy issues and potential regulations around them," Bharti Airtel MD & CEO India & South Asia Gopal Vittal said while speaking to analysts during the Q3 earnings call. The company has acquired a strategic stake in Aqilliz – a Blockchain as a Service Company under the Airtel Startup Accelerator Program, subject to applicable statutory approvals. Airtel aims to deploy Aqilliz’s advanced blockchain technologies at scale across its Adtech (Airtel Ads), Digital Entertainment (Wynk Music & Airtel Xstream), and Digital Marketplace (Airtel Thanks App) offerings. Speaking about the DTH business, Vittal said that the company has a presence in 18 million homes with an Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) of Rs 146. Airtel Digital TV has recently changed the set-top box (STB) pricing and reduced channel commissions. "These are expected to move the industry towards a more sensible business model by lowering the gross additions in the category while focusing on net additions." He also pointed out that DD Free Dish continues to disrupt the business model as good content continues to be offered for free in vast waves of the country. The Airtel India chief also sees a huge opportunity in converting cable subscribers to DTH and monetising over-the-top (OTT) content. "The irony is that the opportunity to convert and upgrade from cable is massive. There is also a huge opportunity to monetize OTT content and deliver a unified connected experience through Airtel Xtreme. To address this we have developed a compelling proposition for customers," he stated. DD Free Dish, he said, is a structural issue for the pay-TV sector. He also stated that the Prasar Bharati-owned free DTH platform has huge penetration in markets like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. The DTH operators have taken up the issue of making pay content available on the DD Free Dish platform. As reported earlier, the broadcasters have pulled out their Hindi GECs from DD Free Dish. "We have taken this up with the broadcasters. We have also talked to the regulator to see how we can deal with it," Vittal said. He also stated that cord-cutting is largely an urban phenomenon. He also pointed out that cord-cutting requires subscribers to pay a substantial subscription. "Netflix is at Rs 299 a month. Amazon is at Rs 1499 a year, so these are not particularly and the subscriptions that they have are not large enough to meaningfully displace the opportunity on linear." Airtel is planning to use its digital marketplace capabilities to monetise OTT subscriptions. He also claimed that Airtel is seeing rapid growth in terms of OTT subscriptions on the large screen. "So we have dramatically improved the payments experience. Today you get a QR code on the screen you can just flash it pay for it and get on to subscription," Vittal added. On the implementation of New Tariff Order (NTO) 2.0, Vittal said that the hike by pay broadcasters will get passed on to the customers. He also pointed out that the DTH operators have not been able to increase subscription prices for the last two years. "I think that you know we will wait to hear what happens on NTO2 and I sense that there will be some price increase that the broadcasters will also look for and that obviously will then get passed on to customers. We have not seen any price increase in DTH now for two years. So it has been a long time, there has been no price increase," Vittal averred.