Two years ago, we did not imagine that users would be hungry for mobile data and stream video content on their handsets on the go. However, today, our smartphone customers are hooked on to their screen for at least 200 minutes a day. Our average customer gobbles up a staggering 9GB a month—a surge of 900% in less than two years, resulting in video and live TV accounting for 60% of data traffic on our network.

How did this happen? This tectonic shift has been driven by affordable smartphones, even more affordable data plans and near ubiquitous 4G networks. More and more Indians are upgrading to smartphones. By the end of 2018, it is estimated that India will have more than 330 million smartphone users and, according to some projections, this will swell to 700 million by 2022, making India one of the largest smartphones nations globally.

And thanks to the smartphone, we are already seeing a massive shift in the way content is being consumed. From being single TV screen households and family viewing habit, the smartphone now is the primary and personal screen for hundreds of millions, and is truly a one-stop gateway to their entertainment, payment, communication and social connectivity needs. To say the least, the opportunity ahead of us is truly massive.

We are at an early stage of consumption habit formation for content in India and at this point subscriptions and driving direct monetisation of content at a large scale will be a challenge.

As a consequence, innovative content bundling by telcos will play out in the foreseeable future to ensure that this digital ecosystem takes off and customers get a taste of rich content on their personal screens.

Partnerships will be key to the evolution of an open, transparent and vibrant digital ecosystem that thrives on creativity and availability of content. This game is not about owning or controlling the value chain. It is about collaboration between telcos and content creators to build structural models where the ecosystem wins. Telcos bring distribution reach, deep customer insights, curation capabilities and carrier billing platforms to the table while content creators can focus on producing world-class and relevant content.

We recently announced Airtel Thanks, which opens up propositions to users across content, device offers, shopping deals through their core telco plan. This is a unique content bundling strategy that has been crafted to help our consumers get access to the best of content without having to pay premium pricing.

I also believe that personalisation will become a bedrock of content growth in India. Given India’s diversity and new smartphone users coming from tier 2 and 3 towns and villages, regional content play will become bigger than ever. Telcos will be able to leverage their deep understanding of the customer, to enable this large regional content play. Advanced technology tools like Big Data and AI will help in curating as well as producing relevant and contextual content for audiences.

Imagine a Wynk Music or Airtel TV customer in Tamil Nadu having a completely different app interface and content listing compared to someone in the northeast and content producers collaborating to create and curate songs, movies, shows and much more for these customers to build a deeper engagement.

We have just scratched the surface and this is the start of a hugely exciting journey that has the potential to make India one of the biggest content hubs in the world.

Sameer Batra is CEO (content and apps), Bharti Airtel

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