Bangalore: Broadcasters and media houses are making a beeline for mobile Internet, the most personal route to the Indian viewer in one of the world’s fastest growing cellphone markets.
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By July, several channels such as Asianet News, Survarna News, ETV Bangla, ETV and websites including Filmnirvana.com and Techtree.com will make content mobile phone-friendly, while broadcasters such as NDTV Networks Plc. and UTV Software Communications Ltd will add to the pile.
“We will be putting more on WAP (wireless application protocol, the technology that helps run the Internet on mobile phones). There is no question about it,” said T.N. Prabhu, chief executive of UTV New Media Ltd, a subsidiary of UTV Software. The broadcaster already has its UTVi, Bindass TV and UTV at Play channels on mobile Internet platforms.
Television channels have been using text messages to connect with cellphone-totting viewers since the 1990s, but it’s only over the past year they have explored the mobile Internet medium, as their audiences start spending more time browsing the Web on their handheld devices.
Technological advances have made accessing the Internet over mobile phones easier and faster, though websites still need to have versions that fit the smaller screens. Besides, the content is made shorter for the mobile platform, with snippets of information and updates as well as short video clips and contests.
Rajesh T.S. Reddy, co-founder and chief executive of July Systems and Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which powers the hardware and software for mobile websites such as Moneycontrol.com, NDTV and Live-mint.com (Mint’s website), says 10-15 channels are set to launch on the mobile Internet platform in next few weeks.
India has at least 391 million mobile phone connections with 15 million users added just in March, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. Every third mobile phone sold in India is GPRS-enabled, allowing access to the Internet. This feature, though, lies dormant in most phones and only 2-4% of the mobile phone pool in India regularly access the Internet through their hand devices, according to research firm Gartner Inc.
“This (mobile Internet) is a big opportunity for TV channels to make money.... It will also impact their overall branding and viewership,” said Neha Gupta, a senior research analyst at Gartner.
At a time when advertising revenues are sliding because of the overall slowdown, media companies expect mobile Internet platforms to generate revenues from the start. Typically, media companies earn Rs150-200 per 1,000 ad views.
The number of views per site varies depending on the popularity of its content and brand recall. A cricket site such as Cricketnirvana.com gets about 8-10 million views a month.
“Mobile Internet platforms are set up at next to zero cost with minimal investment on design, customization and editing software,” says Sumit Luthra, vice-president, new media, at Nimbus Communications Ltd, a founding investor in sports channels Neo Sports and Neo Cricket. “Whatever money I make on WAP is a bonus for the company.”
Luthra expects the firm’s revenue from its mobile Internet sites to increase to Rs50 lakh in the year ending 31 March. That’s a fraction of Nimbus’ Rs2.25 crore revenue from its new media division in fiscal 2009, which its expects to at least double to Rs5.5 crore the following year.
Nimbus also plans to launch its Cricketnirvana.com mobile site in the US and Canada this year. It will also launch Filmnirvana.com on the same medium locally in July.
“Lots of brands are experimenting with this screen, which is more penetrated than any other screen in India,” said Rahul Pandey, business head of Mobile18, the mobile arm of Television Eighteen India Ltd that hosts mobile Internet sites Moneycontrol.com, Cricketnext.com and Ibnlive.com. Mobile18’s revenue is growing at 50-60% quarter on quarter, Pandey added.
Companies such as Samsung India Electronics Ltd are frequent advertisers on the medium. Says Sunil Dutt, country head, telecom division, Samsung India, “It fits in with our overall advertising strategy in that it helps us reach out to our target audience more directly. The messaging can be fine-tuned as per the user profile.”
Vikram Chandra, chief executive of NDTV Networks, sees huge potential in tapping customers via TV, Internet and mobile phones. For instance, on 16 May, as results of India’s general election were being declared, NDTV anchors held live chats through Ndtv.com on the emerging political equations; this level of connectivity is yet to be explored on the mobile platform, said Chandra.
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint