Tue, Jan 29 2013. 12 54 AM IST

Live TV streaming on mobiles catching on, but hurdles remain

The uptake of many low-end tablets and larger-screen smartphones have added to the appeal of TV on mobiles, analysts say
Ami Shah & Leslie D’Monte

An October 2012 Gartner report forecast that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake personal computers, or PCs, as the most common Web-access device worldwide and that, by 2015, over 80% of the handsets sold in mature markets will be smartphones. Photo: Reuters
Mumbai: Amit Mehta, a 30-year-old software engineer, enjoys watching entertainment serials and news clips that are streamed live to his cellphone, especially when he’s on the move or travelling for work. Mehta simply has to whip out his handset from his pocket, click on an app and wait for the show to begin.
The shows and news clips are streamed on the handsets, typically with 15-20 seconds lag when compared with watching the same show on a TV set. “I like the fact that I can catch up with my favourite shows whether I am in India or overseas,” said Mehta, acknowledging that “clarity and buffering” remain issues that telecom operators need to tackle.
Live TV streaming on cellphones and tablets is slowly catching the fancy of millions of users like Mehta who have a host of TV apps—such as nexGTv, Sony LIV (launched last week by Multi Screen Media, or MSM), Ditto TV (a unit of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd), Zenga TV, Apalya, Yupp TV, Desi Indian TV and Puri TV—to choose from and download for free.
And there’s a lot of content to watch. nexGTv, for instance, claims to have tied up with over 100 live TV channels including news, entertainment, faith, music and movies.
“We also have video-on-demand (VoD) like the Mahabharata, movies and short films. The app enables watching replays, too—a special feature that allows you to catch your favourite programmes that might have been missed over the past seven days,” said G.D. Singh, director of DigiVive, a group company of Media Matrix Worldwide Ltd, which operates the NexGTV app.
Singh said the flagship product of DigiVive “is witnessing an overwhelming response from end-consumers with the nexGTv app being downloaded 7.5 million times since its launch in January 2012.”
Sony LIV, which was launched on 23 January has seen 100,000 downloads (70,000 on iOS and 30,000 on Android) till date, according to a company spokesperson.
Ditto TV, on its part, claims to offer more than 50 television channels, including 15 regional, 11 news and five music channels among others. The company said it has partnerships with content providers such as Zee, MSM, BBC, and Big CBS.
In August 2012, Ditto TV said it clocked 100,000 downloads, which is extraordinarily high.
“We reached the 500,000 app download mark for the Ditto TV app in September and had 940,000 subscribers in December. Looking at the acceptance of the service, we expect the numbers to grow phenomenally in the next few months,” said Vishal Malhotra, business head, New Media, Zee Entertainment.
Customers were asking the company “to augment our VoD content, and to introduce ‘catch-up TV’—a feature that will enable them to view their favourite episodes at the time of their choosing,” he said.
According to a January press release by Ditto TV, a survey of 425,000 users of its app on tablets, mobiles and computers showed that Mumbai accounts for 16% of the user base, and the metros for 26%.
Maharashtra and Gujarat together account for nearly 40% of the total user base. The report added that every third smartphone user in India uses an Android-based handset to access live entertainment content online.
The opportunity is huge with the increasing proliferation of mobile phones and tablets.
An October 2012 Gartner Inc. research report forecast that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake personal computers, or PCs, as the most common Web-access device worldwide and that, by 2015, over 80% of the handsets sold in mature markets will be smartphones.
A month earlier, the research firm reported that free apps will account for 89% of total downloads in 2012.
nexGTv, according to Singh, shares revenue with the television channels on a 50:50 basis. DigiVive has invested $7-8 million to set up the equipment for running operations. The business model, said Singh, is typically “freemium”, with some content free and other content that needs to be paid for.
“Around 70% of the services are free, while 30% of the content is made available for subscription,” said Singh, who expects “the company to achieve an operating profit break even in early 2014 and post a net profit sometime by the end of 2015”.
“We have partnered with major telecom operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd), MTNL (Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd), MTS India Pvt. Ltd and Karbonn India Ltd. Live TV apps right now are at the stage at which Internet in India was in 2003. In the next two-three years, when networks will be a given thing, we will progress to the level of Internet in our country in 2007,” said Singh.
A few cellphone service providers have also partnered with app makers to “white-label” the name of the cellphone service providers while other app makers have billing partnerships with service providers. This means the mobile phone company can use its own brand for the service.
These apps are also increasing the mobile advertising pie.
In a 17 January report, Gartner said worldwide mobile advertising revenue is forecast to reach $11.4 billion in 2013 from $9.6 billion in 2012.
“Smartphones and media tablets extend the addressable market for mobile advertising in more and more geographies as an increasing population of users spends an increasing share of its time with these devices,” said Andrew Frank, research vice-president at Gartner.
Vdopia Inc., which has an exclusive partnership with DigiVive for ads, uses patented technology to make video ads clickable and interactive.
Tracking data on viewership on a mobile platfrom is easy, said Preetesh Chouhan, vice-president (APAC), with Vdopia Inc.
“Advertisers can get data as detailed as how many people, at what time, from which location, which handset, which OS (operating system), which operator, and on which channel, saw their advertisement,” he said.
Chouhan admitted, though, that the market for mobile TV ads “is in its infancy”.
“While there are no third-party estimates, we believe the market for mobile TV ads is a little below `10 crore (just 0.5% of the total digital advertising spend) but is growing fast,” said Chouhan.
The main hurdles to rapid growth centre around infrastructure issues—low bandwidth and high data charges, say users and experts.
“Using the service with the help of a data card is not a very pleasant experience. The apps are better supported if there is a wi-fi facility around,” said Mehta.
Sandip Biswas, director, Deloitte Touche Tomhatsu India Pvt. Ltd, said the number of mobile TV users was around 7.2 million by end-March 2012. “We expect the number to have gone up by 25% this year,” he said, adding that “however, less than one million are serious users—those whose average revenue per user (ARPU) is around `50”.
Biswas said 3G was the main driver of mobile TV in 2012. He added that the uptake of many low-end tablets and larger-screen smartphones have added to the appeal of TV on mobiles.
“Tablets are becoming less of a serious computing device and more of an entertainment device which is helping the cause of TV on mobile,” said Biswas, adding that currently most users watch small video clips since they cannot be glued to the screens due to poor bandwidth issues.
“We expect a hockey stick growth when (high-speed) 4G services are eventually rolled out,” he said.
Singh of DigiVive agrees. “We are entirely banking on the roll-out of 4G while hoping that 3G will be a success, too.”
Ruchita Saxena contributed to this story.