PING Digital Broadcast Pvt. Ltd, one of the earliest online video companies in India, is eyeing what it described as a “strategic partnership" with a global media and technology company as it seeks to expand its network and scale up distribution, according to co-founder Prashanto Das.

The company, founded by Das, Govindraj Ethiraj, Anagha Rajadhyaksha and Rajshree Naik, has met with US-based Internet firm AOL Inc., although it doesn’t confirm that AOL is the potential strategic partner.

“AOL has been meeting all players in the system to understand the Indian digital content space...can recall only one visit from them…pretty much that," PING Digital said in an emailed response to a query on its strategic partnership.

AOL did not respond to a query emailed by Mint.

A deal is expected to take place in the next three to six months, failing which, the company said, it would raise a fresh round of capital to sustain its growth.

“If we do not find a value proposition in the deal, we will have to raise money to the tune of $10 million through venture capitalists and private equity firms. It’s a natural progression for the company," added Das.

PING operates a network of 448 channels across categories such as food, fitness and entertainment, and plans to go behind a paywall for its general news channel, Boom, later this year. Boom launched its website in January 2015. The brand had existed solely as a YouTube channel of the PING network since 2014.

The network produces 8-15 videos a day, totalling 75 minutes of content, and claims to have 55 million views a month on YouTube.

Mint could not independently verify this number.

The company also distributes its content on Dailymotion, another video sharing website, and Tata Sky Ltd, through its video-on-demand service.

“We produce content for about 50 of these channels within our network," said the company, which has raised 4.17 crore in two rounds of funding till date.

Investors in the company include Ashwin Damera, founder of Travelguru, Ankur Daga, chief executive officer of Angara.com, the New-York based online jewellery portal, and Monisha Advani of Emmay Entertainment, a Hindi film production firm. The company was last valued at 50 crore in 2014 and has grown since.

PING’s founders say it generated 10 crore in revenue over the last two years, with most of the money coming in the last year. The company, which started with an initial capital of 40 lakh invested by the founders, generated a revenue of 2.45 crore in fiscal 2014, as per company documents filed with the Registrar of Companies.

“We have over this year generated revenue through monetization of views and also worked with leading brands and companies such as Quaker Oats, Coca-Cola, Schweppes, Panasonic, Shine, Digital Quotient, SAP, Microsoft, Google and GSK, among others, on brand integrations and other initiatives." Ethiraj said.

“We expect brand-related work and monetization to continue on a significant upswing as digital spends continue to rise," he added.

PING also has a partnership with Nasscom, the software industry lobby group, and is its sole media partner for business events. It generates money by creating branded content for Nasscom. The multi-channel network ecosystem is still at a very nascent stage in India, said Aashish Bhinde, executive director at Avendus Capital Pvt. Ltd, a financial services firm.

“Over the last few years, this sector has seen investments between $50-60 million through private equity firms and venture capitalists. While there are about 25-30 players in the market, only 6-7 have reached a certain degree of scale and growth with video views in excess of 10 million," he said.

The company’s news subscription plans are likely to be in place by November 2015.

“India is not just about headlines, the story lies in the details. Boom, our news brand, tells these compelling stories that go beyond the noise," said co-founder Das. “We believe the consumer has matured and, in a digital economy, she will pay for a premium and exclusive content that engages and empowers."

By June 2015, Internet users across rural and urban India are expected to touch 354 million, according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). YouTube attracts an estimated 70 million unique viewers in India a month.

The company’s plans coincide with YouTube’s launch of its subscription channel, where it will charge for its video content. The new service will offer consumers the choice to pay for an “ad-free" version of YouTube for a monthly fee, according to a report in TechCrunch.

YouTube did not disclose details of the launch of its subscription model in India. “There is no date available for launch in India. YouTube may make subscriptions available globally or in select regions," said a YouTube spokesperson.

According to Vikas Gupta, co-founder and director of 9.9 Mediaworx Pvt. Ltd, PING is a multi-channel network on YouTube—which means it is an aggregator of videos of different publishers. Although it has very few videos of its own, the collection of the publishers that have tied up with the firm contribute to its claimed views and earnings.

PING’s Ethiraj was the founding editor-in-chief at Bloomberg-UTV. He and his colleague, Das, who set up and led creative teams at TimesNow, Bloomberg TV India and UTV Broadcast Network, decided to set up PING in November 2012. “We are all from the satellite world and we saw the complete breakdown of the business model of news channels," said Ethiraj.

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