Online video apps: Show motion

With the growing adoption of smart mobility devices and access to Internet, entertainment and communications providers are betting big on online TV and video streaming services

JUST A few months into its launch, Hotstar—Star India’s latest attempt at cracking the online code—witnessed close to 16 million downloads and 50 million unique users, “the fastest adoption for any digital service in the world”. Apparently, popular apps like Facebook took 10 months and Spotify five months to get to a million downloads. The average time spent on the Hotstar app—30 minutes per consumer per day—also compares well with the three hours or so that average Indians (read families) spend watching TV every day.

“The platform also broke global records in sports during the recent cricket world cup tournament, with over 50 million video views for the India vs Australia match,” says a Star India spokesperson.

Star India shouldn’t be surprised, as the concept of watching television and video content on the go has evolved dramatically since the time YouTube was king. As per a 2014 Assocham-Deloitte joint study, the share of videos in the country’s Internet data traffic is expected to rise from about 41% in FY 2012 to 64% in FY 2017. “Mobile TV has matured in terms of streaming technology, and user adoption is evident from the increase in video traffic. Mobile TV (has) registered a 400% growth rate in viewership (since 2012) for the country’s largest telecom companies, as more Indians watched TV on the go,” the study notes.

As per the study, YouTube, the most popular video app, is accessed by 35% of smartphone users, who spend almost 1.5 hours a month on it.
The scene is now set for entertainment and communications providers to offer game-changing services that would launch viewers into a new age of entertainment. HOOQ, touted as Asia’s answer to popular streaming service Netflix, recently announced that it will kick off its services in India in the near future for just R199 a month.

HOOQ, a start-up joint venture between Singtel, Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros, allows customers to enjoy unlimited online streaming access and an offline viewing option for Hollywood and Indian movies, and television content via any device, including computers, smartphones, tablets and Android set-top boxes. It claims to have an extensive collection—over 15,000 titles—of Hollywood and local Indian content.

“Unlike other service providers, we are very focused on emerging markets and we think of India as ground zero. India already has about 130 million pay TV users. We are targeting millions more,” Peter Bithos, CEO, HOOQ, was quoted as saying by the media recently.

Now trending

The growing adoption of mobility devices is prompting media service providers to offer a wider choice of content via smartphones, tablets and phablets, among others. Today, almost all major television channels in India, including Sony, Colors, Star India, Discovery and NDTV have their own apps available on Google Play, Apple’s App Store and Windows Store for free. Some popular shows like Comedy Nights with Kapil have their own applications too, available on these platforms.

Along with TV channels, digital service providers like Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV and Dish TV provide various TV channel packages on mobile applications. All the service providers’ apps are generally free for the first month. After that, viewers can buy suitable packs for their mobile TV. However, viewers need to buy separate plans for apps and cannot link them to their normal TV plans.

Mobile service providers like Idea, BSNL, Docomo and Vodafone have also launched mobile apps for watching TV channels on the go. Even independent apps are making their foray into the evolving online TV and video streaming space.

So what is the catch here? Why are entertainment and communications providers betting big on mobile-based TV and video services?
Going by a 2014 study undertaken by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), more than 78% of the 152 million Indian Internet users are mobile. The average spend on mobile Internet (R235 per month) is almost as much as that for cable TV. With about 70 million smartphone users, India is as big as any European country when it comes to people with the money, time and ability to watch sports and entertainment content online. This reflects in the growth of online video consumption: 59 million and rising, says comScore, an analytics company for the digital world.

“We have seen the mobile revolution in India in the past few years. Everyone is mobile now, with mobile data easily accessible to most customers, and all types of content being consumed on mobile phones. We see a huge growth in this domain. TV is one of the most important forms of entertainment and mobile TV brings TV to where people are,” says Uday Reddy, founder and CEO of Yupp TV.

Headquartered in Atlanta, US, Yupp TV is one of the world’s largest Internet television providers offering 200-plus Indian TV channels in 13 languages. “We have close to 5 million app downloads, of which almost half are from India,” he adds.

The big picture

As we get busier, finding the time to watch one’s favourite show on TV when it airs is becoming tougher and tougher by the day. Also, with improving technology, the mindset of the consumer is changing. All consumer services, including reading, shopping and banking, are now available on the Internet and come with special technology for mobile-based customers.

TV shows, movies and videos can’t afford to lag behind in this race. “There are a lot of advantages. For example, with ‘catch-up TV’, you can watch your favourite programmes at your convenience. With mobile TV, you can watch those programmes anytime, anywhere. Also, this allows us to bring the social aspect to TV as well with Facebook or Twitter integration,” explains Reddy of Yupp TV, adding: “Over-the-top (OTT) services put control over content back into the user’s hands. A user can choose what to watch, how to watch it and when to watch at his own convenience.”

Apart from live streaming television content, another area gaining momentum in the space is video-on-demand (VOD), a system which allows users to select and watch video content when they choose to, rather than having to watch at a specific broadcast time.

The time spent on linear consumption of TV (traditional TV viewing) currently is more than VOD, but that is likely to change in the future.

As per a research and predictions study conducted by Ericsson (Ericsson Media Vision 2020), consumption of linear TV to VOD services will be 50:50 by 2020 globally.

“Currently, VOD as a service is still in the nascent stage. There is a huge potential for this market, as today, people do not have the time to sit through a full movie either at home or in the theatre—they prefer to consume content on the move,” says Ashish Behl, business head, The Times Internet Ltd-owned VOD platform currently has over 7,000 films in various genres and across all Indian languages, including English. “We have over 10,000-plus hours of TV episodic content and special-interest content like documentaries and educational content,” adds Behl.

The rules of the industry are changing fast and India is not that far when it comes to newer OTT and VOD platforms. There are already many entrants that have come up in the past few years in this space. #fame is one such venture. The digital entertainment network has launched India’s first ‘live video entertainment’ app. Available in beta on iOS and Google Play, the app is a mobile video platform where performers can beam live to fans and audiences through their smartphones.

Over the next six months, #fame will bring on board more than 50,000 skilled and amateur performers and target over 10 million downloads. “As we’re all aware, the world is increasingly moving to the ‘new screen’ for almost all the purposes of life, entertainment included. Not just the youth, most of the audiences these days are moving to newer destinations and devices for consuming content. Since our core philosophy lies in creating and distributing content through newer talents and formats, launching a mobile app that helps us do that is one of the most natural and exciting things to do,” says Saket Saurabh, CEO, #fame.

From celebrities and skilled talent to enterprising amateurs, the content on the #fame app straddles a wide portfolio of genres, including comedy, entertainment, live events, fashion, music, technology, food and citizen journalism, among others. “Further, features such as social sharing, live chat, liking and fan-based communities have been integrated into the app’s user experience to help grow engagement between performers and audiences on the platform,” adds Saurabh.

Weak signal

It’s all very good, but however much we might like to talk about its evolution, poor data connection is and will remain one of the primary hurdles that mobile TV and video services face. Such services are mostly used on the go. For quality viewing, an uninterrupted data connection is essential. Cellular service providers do provide data with 3G speeds, but the price is very high. Television, on the contrary, guarantees uninterrupted supply most of the time.

“The biggest concern is the lack of infrastructure for ubiquitous 3G and 4G coverage and high costs associated with data plans for mobile devices. There are no unlimited data plans. The content still needs a lot of research with respect to what youngsters want to watch. Billing is another challenge—we need innovative ways of charging for the TV services, which will make it easy and affordable for subscribers to pay,” says Reddy of Yupp TV.

Going mobile

** The share of videos in the country’s Internet data traffic is expected to rise from about 41% in FY 2012 to 64% in FY 2017

** Mobile TV has registered a 400% growth rate in viewership since 2012

** The average spend on mobile Internet—R235 per month—is almost as much as that for cable TV

Source: Assocham-Deloitte 2014 study, and Internet and Mobile Association of India 2014 study

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