Indian TV networks wooing viewers on mobiles

MUMBAI Tue Oct 25, 2011 7:20pm IST

A customer looks at an iPhone 4 at the Apple Store 5th Avenue in New York June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/Files

A customer looks at an iPhone 4 at the Apple Store 5th Avenue in New York June 24, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer/Files

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Television networks in India are shifting their focus to viewers who want to watch their favourite shows at their own convenience -- and not on TV.

At least two of India’s top television channels -- Star, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and Colors, part of the Viacom 18 group -- are developing original content for mobile phones.

India has more than 800 million mobile phone subscribers, but only 130 million households have a TV, and the channels are hoping to tap these viewers as they look to consume entertainment on the go.

Star Plus recently launched its own iPad and iPhone app, enabling viewers to watch live television, play catch-up on shows and listen to audio blogs from their favourite actors.

“We believe that our consumer doesn’t want to be tied down to timings. He wants to watch his daily dose of TV at his own convenience,” Lalit Bhagia of Star Plus told Reuters.

“We are also developing an Android app.”

TV channels have joined the club late. Independent content providers like Rajshri have been developing mobile only content for telecom service providers like Idea since 2007.

Ekta Kapoor, India’s soap queen, also launched an interactive audio detective series ‘Kriminal Kaun’ for Aircel last year. These mobisodes are typically 3 minutes long.

Bhagia declined to give investment figures but said digital platforms were a huge focus for Star and that the channel was spending considerable time and talent developing digital platforms, especially mobile. It already has a voice-enabled service where mobile phone users can call in and listen to a TV show.

But Vikram Malhotra, who runs digital for Colors, a Viacom 18 property and a rival of Star, believes critical mass in this market won’t be achieved by peddling the same shows.

“Critical mass will come when we have original content provided only for the mobile phone users outside of the regular TV viewing public,” Malhotra told Reuters.

Malhotra said Colors was working on original voice-based content, and had asked traditional TV content providers as well as those who create content for mobiles, to pitch in.

He declined to give specifics but said Colors would come out with original voice-based programming as early as the next few weeks.

“Out of 800 million plus mobile phone subscribers, a minority own smartphones or have access to apps. Our priority is voice-based mobile programming, driven by the Colors brand but original content,” he said.

India mostly has single television households, and daily soaps and reality TV shows dominate ratings.

But the pot at the end of the rainbow seems far and Malhotra admits no one in the industry knows for sure when this stream will start generating revenue.

“Right now it’s a wait and watch situation for most of the industry, we are feeling our way in,” he said.

A report by consulting firm PwC said while tariff plans remained attractive, bandwidth remained an issue for mobile TV.

“India viewers are used to watching TV on a bigger screen. It therefore remains to be seen how telecom players change this mindset,” the report said.

Bhagia also admits revenue-sharing agreements between telecom operators and content providers are skewed in favour of the former, which means revenue for content providers doesn’t flow as freely.

But will television sets soon become obsolete?

“Absolutely not,” says Malhotra. “The form will change, whether it is 3D or LED but I don’t think television will ever go out of our living rooms."

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