The India entry of Netflix last week , marks the global coming-of-age of Internet TV. Will it change the way the world's most movie-crazy nation does its time-pass ?
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, January 18 2016: The simultaneous addition of 130 countries (including India) to the global footprint of the Netflix service, last week, was a landmark in the decade-long history of Internet TV. It marks a large-scale lurch away from the tune-in and consume-what-we-feed model of conventional cable or satellite television, to an on-demand era. "With the help of the Internet, we are putting power in consumers’ hands to watch whenever, wherever and on whatever device", said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, as he virtually 'switched on' the company's expanded service during a CES keynote in Las Vegas. Netflix is available on any device that has an Internet connection-- PCs, tablets, smartphones, Smart TVs and game consoles.
The world's most movie-crazy nation could hardly ignore a development like this. Indeed, it was first off with an agile TV-industry response: Elsewhere at the same CES mela, Devita Saraf, the young CEO of the desi-talent-driven, US-based, home entertainment player Vu Technologies , was unveiling a slate of HD and UHD smart TV sets, with dedicated Netflix and YouTube buttons on the remote -- and some of the most disruptive price-tags in the business.
On-demand, content is not exactly new in India. Some dozen agencies already offer India-centric TV or cinema content , either free or paid, with subscriptions which are among the lowest in the world. Their sharp nose for Indian tastes, will ensure that they are not about to roll over and die simply because a big gorilla like Netflix has entered the competition. The opposite in fact: "Netflix’s entry to India is a big positive as it validates the potential of Video On Demand in our country", says Abhayanand Singh, founder of Muvizz.com, "Customers will have a lot more choice, in terms of the content."
There are other, more earthy reasons why the Netflix model, far from wiping out the competition, will have to work hard to find a foothold: Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, pin points the basic challenges. Cost: Netflix is charging between Rs 500 and Rs 800 for its three tiers of service here-- 2-4 times costlier than the domestic competition. Till it ties up with some cable providers in India, the only way Netflix will find customers is via the customer's own broadband. 4G is here but the vast majority of users haven't got it yet and in any case broadband speeds in India are a cruel joke with customers rarely getting what they paid for. They have to pay for the additional cost of jitter-free speed on top of Netflick's subscription price. Lastly, Gandhi points to the 'Content Conundrum': Netflix has an impressive English content library (which) in the Indian context, will be considered niche. Like MacDonalds and Dominos before them, they may learn the hard way, what India is ready to pay for.
Technology-wise Video on Demand, unless bundled by your cable or dish provider, requires a hardware or software video player. A smart TV will also do the job. So will a USB dongle like Google's ChromeCast or Indian equivalents like Lukup Media's Lukup Player which plugs into your TV and offers a large library of movies and shows plus 500 GB of storage. Premium VoD services that offer Ultra HD ( 4K) content, don't make sense unless you havee a TV set of 36 inches or more. But it looks like the real Internet TV revolution will take place with content of lower resolution , on portable devics. This is why YouTube and Facebook on one hand -- and the on-demand services of TV channels like Sony and Hotstar ( of the Star TV channels) or Airtel's Wynk, enable so much free content in manageably small chunks that work with smart phone Internet speeds of around 1 MBPS or less. Indeed, the global leader in video for mobiles -- Vuclip -- is fuelled by Indian innovation and boasts content in 20 languages, from 160 top studios. That is jugaad for you!
Netflix will have to compete with the above -- and with:
- Eros, whose content is mainly its own DVD library and costs Rs 49/month
- Box TV with its repertoire in of English and 10 Indian languages at Rs 199/month
- Hooq, the Asian VoD leader with a large film- TV combo of over 30,000 hours including some classic DD serials, at Rs 199/month
- Hungama's repertoire of films and music videos in about 10 languages at Rs 249/month
- YuppTV, the world’s largest Over-The-Top (OTT) provider for Indian content, with 200-plus Indian channels in 12 languages, starting at Rs 99/month
- Spuul's Hindi, Telugu, Punjabi, Malayalam and Bhojpuri movies from a trio of Singapore-based Indians at Rs 300/month
- Muvizz, the place for 'cinema that matters' -- documentaries, shorts and cult movies at $ 4.99/month
- Ogle from Pritish Nandy group which promises Hindi and international films, free from ads, with a smooth play even at 0.5 MBPS.
Netflix, swagatham. May the best video-wallah win!