New Delhi: Bharti Airtel Ltd has identified two new areas—healthcare and education—around which it plans to build content apart from sharpening focus on regional music and videos on its platform as it braces for a long battle with rival Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. Airtel expects the current round of battle will centre around content as cut-rate data tariffs have ceased to provide a meaningful competitive edge in the hyper-intensive telecom industry.
While Reliance Jio aims to focus on producing in-house web series and shows for its subscribers, Airtel is forging partnerships with content producers Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, Sony LIV and ZEE5, among others.
“We don’t believe in controlling the entire value chain end-to-end... There are a bunch of partnerships that we have got done which are exclusive to us...on the video side, we want to stay away from producing content," Sameer Batra, chief executive officer, content and apps, Bharti Airtel, said in an interview.
With regional content doing well on its platform, Bharti Airtel plans to increase these offerings to users to boost data usage. The company aims to bank on its machine learning and data science capabilities to spot trends and customise its offerings.
“Customers are very different across areas. For example, you would think that Hindi music is popular in Delhi. We are finding that Bhojpuri and Haryanvi music is very big in Delhi," he said.
The company has already inked a couple of partnerships to enhance regional content. It has partnered with Kolkata-based Shree Venkatesh Films to bring a large catalogue of Bengali content on Airtel TV, apart from signing up Marathi folk singer and Indian Idol season one contestant Prajakta Shukre to release six music tracks for Airtel’s music app Wynk Music.
“We are also talking to a team which has a huge catalogue of Nepali films, apart from planning a couple of partnerships for content to cater to the youth. We are also on the verge of closing a deal with global music label Orchard to add to our South Korean pop music category," Batra said.
Driving data usage through content is key for Bharti Airtel. In April-June, Reliance Jio reported 10.6 GB average data consumption per user per month while for Bharti Airtel this was 7.8 GB.
“Apart from music and video, we will get into one or two more key areas of interest and build the portfolio in a manner that we think is consistent with our ability to get scale and more importantly lock customers down. Healthcare and education are two areas which we are studying at the moment quite deeply," Batra said.
Reliance Jio also sees opportunities in sectors such as healthcare and education sector where offerings can ride on its telecom pipe. It has also made a string of acquisitions targeted at the content space. —in March, the company announced an integration with music app Saavn for its digital music service JioMusic and in February, Reliance Industries announced that it would buy a 5% stake in filmmaker Eros International Plc.
Monetising content is the big challenge not just for Airtel, but all telecom firms, especially at the current environment of suppressed tariffs. However, Airtel thinks it is too early to worry about monetisation.
“We have seen that if we are able to lock customers down to more digital products, their relative stickiness to Airtel goes up... Music, we have started to monetise at a decent scale. We are trying a few experiments on advertising etc. Right now, the objective is to get pretty much everybody with a smartphone have one of our digital properties," Batra said.