New Delhi: From the “first look” of forthcoming Hindi films such as Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag to music videos of rapper Honey Singh, reality shows and breaking stories, India is increasingly going online for news and entertainment.
Video consumption on the Internet has increased 40-50% over 2011, said Praseed Prasad, head of digital trading at GroupM, a media-buying agency.
“Over the last year, the entire ecosystem has started coming together,” said Nitesh Kripalani, senior vice-president (business development and new media) at Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSM), which runs several channels including Hindi entertainment channel Sony. “Broadband users are going up, digital devices are more affordable and the pricing of data packages is coming down. Content and device manufacturers are happy, and content owners and publishers are realizing the importance of creating a content library.”
There are other numbers relevant to this emerging trend, too.
In 2008, smartphones accounted for 3.8% of all phones sold. This grew to 8.1% in 2011, according to a telecom report by AT Kearney and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and is poised to touch 25% by 2016.
The number of broadband connections in the country stands at 22.5 million, and will reach 175 million by 2017 and 600 million by 2020, primarily through wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, the report said.
A September report by Indian Market Research Bureau and the Internet and Mobile Association of India said that by December 2012, there will be 150 million Internet users in India.
“Numbers are shifting because the time spent by consumers on the Internet is on the rise,” Prasad said. “Consumption of video is also increasing as a function of availability of better-quality content from a larger number of providers. Entertainment and news are the largest category for video consumption online.”
Users in India spent an aggregate 50 million hours a month on YouTube, the video platform of Google Inc., according to a comScore Inc. report for November.
“That is a 52% increase in time spent over last year,” said a Google spokesperson.
General entertainment leads the consumption of video online, said Kavita Dhyani, principal partner at Mindshare, a WPP agency, and who looks after the digital media business.
“Live seamless streaming is a reality now, which facilitates great viewing experience on the consumer’s part. The cost of streaming data and quality used to be a challenge earlier. But now our data packages have become cost effective,” she added.
The cost of data packages has dropped “phenomenally” to the extent of 60-70% over the last two years, Dhyani said. Besides that, multiple formats have emerged for data packages—post-paid, prepaid and single-day packs—giving customers flexibility of choice.
Besides that, the spread of broadband and Wi-Fi availability has increased, Dhyani said. Google’s online video platform YouTube is clearly a leader in this domain, with a 50% increase in the user base to 36 million over the last year.
The platform has also seen a “significantly higher than 50%” rise in the number of videos viewed and time spent by users online, said Rajan Anandan, managing director and vice-president of Google India. “The content is available any time, it’s very accessible and free of cost, be it on your computers or on mobile,” he said.
Bollywood continued to rule the charts for most-watched songs and movie trailers on YouTube with Brown Rang by Honey Singh (better known to some as Yo! Yo! Honey Singh) and Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd’s (YRF) Jab Tak Hai Jaan, respectively. Increasingly, the Hindi film industry has taken to online promotions of new movies. Anurag Kashyap’s recent two-part Gangs of Wasseypur and forthcoming releases such as Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and Arbaaz Khan’s Dabangg 2 have spent or are spending significant amounts of money online. “The fundamental change which has happened here is that the first look of the film, which one would typically see in a theatre, is now being watched on YouTube,” said Atul Hegde, chief executive at Ignitee Digital Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based independent digital marketing and advertising agency that has worked with Viacom18 Motion Pictures and Fox Star Studios India Pvt. Ltd.
“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’s trailer is already out on YouTube seven months before its release. Its Facebook page already has 4,500 people on it. For a film to achieve such popularity months before its release never happened earlier,” added Hegde. Trailers and songs of recent Bollywood releases such as Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Ishaqzaade and Ek Tha Tiger have crossed five million views.
In the South, too, more people are gravitating towards online for their entertainment fix. An extreme manifestation of this was last year’s viral hit Why This Kolaveri Di?, which also acted as a promotion for the Tamil film 3. The song was part of the film’s soundtrack. It went viral. The movie bombed.
“It is difficult to estimate and provide data, but it has been seen that movie and music, compared to news and televisions soaps, are increasingly watched on the Web, be it on computer or other hand-held devices,” said Shriram Sharma, vice-president (south) at Starcom MediaVest, a media-buying agency.
Bangalore has been an early adopter of the trend of watching entertainment on hand-held devices, which could be because of the higher penetration of these gadgets in the city, he said.
Marketing efforts for films online range from live chats with the cast of the film, interviews on Twitter and contests built around users. This spurt in online marketing of movies arises from the multiplex audience getting younger. “The best way to interact with them is through the Internet and social media, which is where they spend most of their time,” Hegde of Ignitee Digital said. On an average, film producers have doubled their online marketing expenditure to Rs.30 lakh from Rs.15 lakh last year.
YRF said it has increased spending on digital media by 30-40% over last year.
“The primary reason for this is that digital is being looked (upon) as a launch platform for trailers and promos of songs,” said Anand Gurnani, general manager (digital and new media) at YRF. The online consumption of YRF songs and trailers nearly doubled over last year. “Short-form videos—mainly trailers and songs—are what fans latch on to immediately. Other videos that get traction online are interviews with stars or behind-the-scenes videos during the making of the film.”
The shift online will gain momentum given the number of devices that people carry.
“Without doubt, digital (Web and mobile) will be the biggest medium for consumption of video content in the years to come. The greatest advantage is ease of access with people carrying mobiles, tablets, laptops wherever they go,” Gurnani said.
Television is also being watched online. Kaun Banega Crorepati, the game show hosted by Amitabh Bachchan for Sony, has got approximately 30 million views since it went on air in September.
“We plan to take our other marquee brands on to the Internet as well,” MSM’s Kripalani said. “It helps engage with the urban working class audience, which is always on the go, but does not compromise on the television content it enjoys.”
Colors, the Hindi entertainment channel from the Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd stable, has also seen online viewership rising for its reality show Bigg Boss. The official Bigg Boss site receives four million page views per month, a 30-40% increase from the last season.
“Bigg Boss viewers follow the property across multiple platforms. They view, talk, blog, share, comment, tweet about the show,” said Vivek Srivastava, head (digital) at Colors. “In the last year, the consumption of content through mobile devices has gone up significantly. Smartphones, tablets, e-readers, broadband have changed the way people are consuming content. Six out of 10 videos watched on YouTube are TV shows.”
Even news has seen an online surge when stories break.
“We got huge viewership spikes during the Anna Hazare protests, and usually any election garners a similar reaction,” said Shouneel Charles, chief sales and marketing officer (digital) for NDTV Convergence, without giving numbers. “We have also seen good video consumption across all our applications on mobile.”
“News sees a large spike whenever there are world events or breaking events in India,” said a spokesperson for Times Internet Ltd, which operates news website Times Now. “We also see a considerable increase in the consumption of long-form content.”
Times Internet also streams Indian Premier League matches live and manages Times Audience Network (TAN), a video-advertising network that has The Times of India, The Economic Times, Indiatimes and 300 other websites under it. TAN has seen its video consumption double over last year, the spokesperson said.
While cricket dominates online viewing, fans are also going online to watch overseas soccer league matches and the US National Basketball Association contests.
The rise in viewership for online videos in India has pushed up advertising rates, too. YouTube charges 10% more every year as more advertisers are attracted to the medium.
“It is mostly heavy spenders on television, the same players who were reluctant to spend on digital that are now latching on to the high potential in video advertising on the Internet,” said Dhyani of Mindshare.
Durable and consumer product companies are spending about 8% of their marketing budgets on digital advertising this year as opposed to 4% last year, said a media buyer who didn’t want to be named.
The absolute number of people watching video content online seems suddenly significant, said Smita Jha, leader (entertainment and media practice) at PricewaterhouseCoopers, although broadcasters are not being able to monetize these immediately. “That does not mean that the opportunity does not exist. Since the numbers are large, monetization is probable,” she said.
In the West, television viewing has shifted online, which is a worry for broadcasters. In India, television homes are still growing, so is television viewing time. Besides, broadcasters in India spend little on original content and continue with the tradition of repeat shows. “So there is no value in catch-up content,” Jha added.
Shauvik Ghosh in New Delhi and S. Bridget Leena in Chennai contributed to this story.