The Essel Group, the conglomerate that owns the parent company of the Zee family of channels, will offer live streams of these channels on mobile phones in association with state-owned telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. The service will first be launched in North India next month.
Broadcasters including Star India Pvt. Ltd have sought to address the growing market for mobile entertainment in the world’s fastest growing mobile telephony market, which already has 175 million subscribers. However, these restrict the choice of content to short films or charge customers per minute, making watching videos on the move an expensive proposition.
The Zee-BSNL initiative will offer subscribers who sign up for the Rs150-a-month service live feeds of some of its channels. “We would have preferred it if we could do this on a 3G network, but we have decided to go ahead with the existing data network of BSNL,” said Ishwar Jha, head of Digital Media Convergence Ltd, part of the Essel Group. Third generation or 3G services are yet to be launched in India because the government hasn’t yet issued licences for the same.
Zee’s service is also different from the digital video broadcast (DVB) service that involves broadcasters beaming their channels in DVB format and phones having the capability to receive these signals. The Zee-BSNL services will involve beaming signals over the telco’s existing network.
Last month, Star India launched its service branded ‘Plus’ that offers unlimited downloads of one-minute clips based on its programmes for Rs30 a month. Reliance Communications Ltd offers streams of live television channels, but charges at the rate of Rs15 for every five minutes.
As a result, companies such as Bharti Telesoft Ltd, a Delhi-based mobile software developer that is an associate company of Bharti Airtel Ltd, have found it tough to convince private operators to launch live TV. Bharti Telesoft claims to offer a solution that uses up only around 60% of the bandwidth that the BSNL-Zee service will use.
The BSNL-Zee combine is targeting five lakh customers in the northern region alone, and is investing in capacity that can support 10,000 simultaneous users.
Analysts say BSNL can do this as most of its bandwidth-consuming data channels are untapped, unlike those of private sector telcos. “The private players have already launched services aimed at the business users which require a certain amount of assured bandwidth,” says Romal Shette, director for telecom risk assessment services at audit firm KPMG India. “They cannot risk clogging up limited bandwidth and endangering such higher return services.”