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BW Businessworld

The ‘Streaming’ War Is Hotting Up

Broadcasters are training all efforts on OTT, eagerly awaiting the money to follow, but where will it come from when the competition is only getting tougher

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Like all things Amazon, the company has gone all out once again in pushing its Prime Video service on mass media and other platforms in various markets including India. For Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, Prime Video is another stepping stone for the company, and the subscriber part of the business is the most attractive because he believes it eventually assists the mother brand. Then there is the original king of streaming videos — Netflix. Arguably the avant-garde of the genre, Netflix put binge watching and streaming on the map. India is one of its most critical markets and Netflix too is doing all it can to woo the onliners in India

But apart from the very many local options, where telecom carriers are also joining the race, the two global players have extreme competition from national broadcasters for whom the online route has become significant. STAR India, Zee, Viacom18, Sony have all ensured that they are present on all connected screens including mobile. Hotstar brings the might of the STAR network as well as has a content line-up from other markets including the US.

The platform took a big step forward when it created an all-episodes-at-once show ‘Tanhaiyan’ for Valentine’s Day, indicating the commitment it has to the medium.

If you are into streaming, you would know that Prime Video and Netflix have been busy signing exclusive deals with Bollywood movies too to sweeten the pot. The going is not easy f or them — compared to Rs 500 Netflix subscription, Hotstar Premium is available for Rs 190, and the premium is only needed for a selection of movies and for access to STAR’s original shows at 6 PM, ahead of the television telecast.

The over the top (OTT) business has become a big deal for all broadcasters from a future perspective. With India’s active OTT video subscribers expected to reach 105 million by 2020, and the proliferation of 4G, the logic is evident.

The issue with the OTT game plan though is the monetisation of it.

While Netflix and Prime Video give no access without a paid subscription, the one-month free trial not counted, most broadcast OTT players come with the unwritten rule of free viewing. For them, the focus of the OTT has been on adding subscribers and raising volume of downloads or time spent.

While free OTT may make sense at the moment for broadcasters, in the long term, the question of monetisation will get tougher. In all fairness, the likes of Hotstar have experimented with inapp ads, though the jury is still out on its success. Besides, in the download versus revenue battle, the former has taken precedence, and the space has been dubbed ‘investment’ as a starting point. Why? Because that has been the nature of all things digital. The brightest business minds are struggling to devise a viable revenue model, but none have the heart to risk going with the ‘pay model’ right from the start. The classic chicken and egg case.

In some ways, there is good news here — the likes of Hotstar can compete with Netflix and Prime Video in any market with a large South Asian Diaspora (which is present in many markets). So when everything falls in place, permissions included — India will hopefully be exporting stronger streaming options. That being said, when business units don’t make P&L sense for long, the focus is compromised. For now, it all boils down to ‘which player can keep spending without waiting for returns’. The problem is those words together never imply a happy situation.