#Livestream: Is your smartphone the next television?

The idiot box is not what it used to be. In fact, your smartphone is now poised to replace it, thanks to streaming apps and social networks


Facebook and Twitter users prefer watching breaking news stories, music concerts and sports events on social network platforms.
Facebook and Twitter users prefer watching breaking news stories, music concerts and sports events on social network platforms.

When was the last time you actually sat down to watch television? The younger demographic, with their smartphones, have found the TV fix on their phones and tablets. In the quarterly earnings call on 3 November, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted that video-streaming would be big in the coming years. “In most social apps today, a text box is still the default way we share. Soon, we believe a camera will be the main way that we share,” he said.

A revolution in progress

A record number of people in the US, a market that has spearheaded the concept of cord-cutting from TV subscriptions, are shifting to streaming apps. According to research firm SNL Kagan, in the second quarter of the year, there were 1.4 million fewer cable TV subscribers compared to the same quarter in 2015. The immediate gainers were Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO Now. 

According to Barclays Research, India is moving to over-the-top (OTT) apps, even before pay TV has the opportunity to penetrate the base of around 273 million TV households in the country. “Mobile has transformed the way people around the world connect, share experiences and discover new things,” says Saurabh Doshi, head of media partnerships, Facebook India.

But why the shift in preferences?

The rapid smartphone adoption over the past three-four years is a primary reason. According to research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), 25.6 million smartphones were shipped in India in just the last quarter of 2015, and 103.6 million units were shipped in the entire year—a 28.8% jump over 2014. “Four years ago, most market observers and even social media platforms dismissed the idea that India was ready for video-streaming. We bet on a fundamentally different and optimistic view of India, that in a country with a very young population, rising smartphone penetration and falling data costs, the smartphone will become a dominant screen for millions of users,” says Ajit Mohan, chief executive officer, Hotstar. And competition pushed things along. “With a host of digital platforms sprouting to provide online streaming services via the Internet, traditional television viewing in India could become a thing of the past,” says Rajiv Vaidya, chief executive officer, Spuul India. 

For cable and DTH, you pay a fixed monthly subscription charge for a particular package of channels. You may not necessarily watch all these channels. But like the cost of voice calls on mobile networks, TV subscription costs in India are lower than in many countries. “Cable and satellite live TV is available in India at a price that is one-tenth of the global average,” says Harit Nagpal, managing director and chief executive officer, Tata Sky, but, he admits, “Sports and news events, which require people to view content as it happens, are critical for live mobile or online viewing”.

The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast suggests India will have 650 million smartphones by 2019. “That’s 650 million personal televisions in users’ pockets. In comparison, there are only about 168 million TV households, a majority of which have single TV,” says Vaidya. “Further evolution of online streaming services would depend largely on the availability of mobile broadband, consistently and ubiquitously,” says Nagpal. Indian viewers lay greater emphasis on video quality (30%) than those in developed nations (23%), says streaming service Viu India.

Altering the clock

According to research firm Nielsen, 65% of viewers in the Asia-Pacific and 57% in the African/Middle-Eastern countries would watch live TV if it had additional social media content. Also, 59% of the respondents preferred to watch video content on their phones because of the convenience, while 64% preferred to watch their favourite TV shows or movies at a time of their convenience. “Once you are used to watching content-on-demand and time-shifted, it is hard to go back to the scheduled format viewing,” says Gaurav Gandhi, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Digital Ventures. History TV streamed episodes of the Ice Road Truckers: India’s Deadliest Roads show on Facebook Live at the same time as the channel. “We get well over a million unique users daily each, watching for over 45 minutes per day,” adds Gandhi.

Content: what holds the key?

Bollywood content remains popular. Facebook Live, for example, is the chosen partner platform for new and forthcoming Bollywood movies such as Rock On 2 and Befikre. “With Facebook Live videos, people are getting the real deal—unedited, authentic, instant with a surprise element and a valuable sense of community,” says Doshi. 

There has been some controversy about the curation by social networks. But that hasn’t stopped Twitter from partnering with Bloomberg Media, which now streams some of the network’s shows.

According to GlobalWebIndex 2016 trends, user-generated content apps such as Meerkat and Periscope have very low numbers—just 1.5% globally for the former, and 2% for the latter. On Facebook and Twitter, however, 41% of the users watch breaking news stories, 38% prefer music concerts, while 29% would like to watch sports events too. 

Earlier this year, Twitter bought the broadcast rights for the US’ National Football League (NFL) Thursday Night Football, and is in talks with the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Soccer (MLS). In August, Facebook streamed footballer Wayne Rooney’s testimonial match, between Manchester United and Everton, on the Facebook Live platform. In June, matches of the Hero Caribbean Premier League cricket series were streamed in 40 countries, on Facebook Live.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has invited bids for the digital broadcast rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL) from 2018 onwards, for a period of 10 years. The stakes are high. “From almost no viewership five years ago, around 100 million people experienced the IPL (Indian Premier League) this year,” says Mohan. It is no surprise that Twitter and Facebook are bidding for the rights, as are Reliance Jio and Amazon, which will launch Prime Video streaming in India in early 2017. Facebook says that during IPL 2016, more than 30 million people generated as many 360 million conversations on the platform. 

Does this mean better content?

Media companies will be able to better gauge user preferences and viewing trends, which traditional TV cannot offer. “Streaming services have the huge advantage of media companies like us directly going to the consumer and understanding their preferences on content much better,” says Gandhi. 

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