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How to build a great video on-demand platform in India

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An exploding smartphone market, falling data prices, onset of 4G connectivity, and content built for the smallest screen – the online video space in India may still be at a nascent stage, but it has all the ingredients of a space that promises to be full of action in the next 5 years. CISCO’s Visual Networking Index Report (VNI) suggests that online video traffic will contribute ~65 per cent of all IP traffic in India by 2018. ~70 billion minutes of video content will be viewed across India per month.

These trends are very similar to what other countries are already seeing. Data from network gear maker Sandvine Corp. shows that Netflix traffic accounted for 34 per cent of North America's downloads during the busiest hours of the day in 2014 – the number in 2015 would probably be higher than that. From a technology infrastructure perspective, India typically lags the developed markets by a few years, but we expect that the next 5-10 years will see immense changes in this space.

Emerging trends in India

Even in these early days, some trends are becoming apparent. Worldwide and in India, specifically, mobile matters. YouTube recently disclosed that ~50 per cent of its consumption is on mobile. In a market such as India, which is primarily a single TV household, mobiles provide a personal content viewing experience. VOD (Video On-demand) platforms in India see mobile consumption in excess of 70 per cent.

VOD consumers demand great content that is recent. Satellite television could get away with recycling and repackaging older content – not so, with the online video space. Today’s consumer has multiple entertainment options – he doesn’t want to view poor quality, older library content. There continues to be room for great older content. However, it’s the latest and greatest content that is most in demand. Content piracy has contributed significantly to such expectations.

Encouraging experimentation with content

One of the biggest advantages of Internet is that it exposes the ‘long tail’ of content. This advantage extends to VOD as well. Platforms such as Spuul, for example, showcase a lot of great independent movies and other video content, which typically do not get massive theatrical releases as a result of lower budgets. By doing this, VOD encourages and allows for the discovery of talent.

Additionally, the online video space provides a fantastic platform for experimenting with various content formats. It isn’t constrained by the economics of satellite television. A show prepared for the web, doesn’t necessarily need to be in ~30 minute slots. It could be a few minutes or a few hours. This has allowed content creators to experiment with multiple formats.

Success mantra to build great VOD platform

Having said that, a number of learnings from television is still applicable in VOD.  For example, it is not enough to just put up the content online. Discovery is as important as search. Programming content is critical.

The view that users in India don’t care about UX is just a myth. A clean user interface, ease of content discovery, personalised recommendations is critical to the success of a VOD product. Great content, without good discovery mechanisms is a recipe for failure in this space.

Users, especially those with money to spend, expect to pay once and consume content over multiple devices. It is important then, for any VOD platform to be available over multiple platforms and ensure that users can switch seamlessly between them.

Finally, piracy continues to be a huge threat. The only way one can deal with piracy is making content easy to consume and affordable. Since users are used to torrenting and downloading content through pirated sites, it is imperative that any legal VOD solution provides them the same ease of use.

The on-demand video space in India is young, but growing rapidly. Piracy continues to be a scourge –this growth in the face of rampant piracy will depend on the quality of content and overall user experience on offer.

Edition: December 2016

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