Event ReportsPublished on Jul 17, 2019
The discussion covered various aspects of video streaming ecosystem interspersed with insightful panel discussions.
Streaming it right: New paradigms in digital video content
“It’s immensely satisfying for me to be in India given that in 2002 when I joined the company, we were delivering video through plastics through the mail in the United States only. And if you would have told me in 2002 that I would be sitting in Mumbai in 2019 talking about the digital delivery of entertainment, I probably would have looked at you in a really weird way,” said David Hyman, general counsel of Netflix. He was engaged in a ‘fireside chat’ with Arun Sukumar, Head of ORF’s Cybersecurity and Internet Governance Initiative, at the second edition of Mumbai Tech Talk while discussing what the future of digital entertainment would look like. The event was organised in partnership with the St. Paul’s Institute of Communication Education on 28 June 2019. The Mumbai Tech Talk is ORF’s initiative to discuss various aspects of technology. The second episode of the series was on the topic of ‘Streaming it right: New paradigms in digital video content.’ The discussion covered various aspects of video streaming ecosystem interspersed with insightful panel discussions. Hyman described how Netflix began its journey as a service that sent movies and TV shows on discs by postal services to buyers and subscribers only in the United States and how they were met with skepticism when they moved to streaming content on the Internet and how they overcame the challenges encountered in the cyber domain. “The digital media includes the entire gamut of stakeholders from the entertainment side. From film and TV producers, production houses to post-production houses to telecom providers to device manufacturers to legislators and regulators, there’s a whole host of people who are interested and involved in the evolution of the digital media,” he explained. One of the biggest engagements of Netflix, he said, has therefore been in trying to educate key stakeholders as to what that future looks like, what are the opportunities and risks and how the digital media and entertainment sector is evolving. He mentioned that Netflix’s goal is to enable good storytelling — regardless of the medium, method of delivery or geography — and make the media more accessible to everyone. “Fundamentally, it has always been about creating great stories and effective storytelling on the entertainment side. The Internet enables global distribution of stories and creates lots of unique opportunities. It enables this through things like easier subtitling, easier dubbing, the ability to watch it when you want and where you want,” he added. The two panel discussions on the topics of ‘Video streaming services: Turning eyeballs into money’ and ‘Building viewership in a Glocalised world’ were followed by an address by Shashi Shekhar Vempatti, CEO of Prasar Bharti, India’s largest public broadcasting agency running Doordarshan’s television network and the All India Radio stations. To understand how video can be monetised, you first need to understand the type of content which is being watched. “It's a myth that people only watch movies on their phones. There's a lot of shorter duration content being watched across the board, from two minutes to 10 minutes having different forms of consumption value. Of this, 50 percent gets consumed in Hindi and the remaining 40-odd percent gets consumed in different regional languages, largely in a similar broadcast trajectory. About 34 percent happens in the south, with the rest of it spread over Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati and Marathi and other regional languages, and English,” explained Siddhartha Roy, chief operating officer at Hungama Digital. This has ramifications on how content is produced on the Internet, where the traditional approach of episode-based serial programming is irrelevant. “This is the larger structure that is evolving; historic fundamentals are rapidly changing,” he added. Manav Sethi, chief marketing officer at Eros International said that YouTube in India gives a good representation of video consumption. Out of about 250 million users of YouTube, nearly 88 percent consume non-English data. “You have about 128 million English speaking audiences who would still be consuming offerings such as Stranger Things and Narcos, but the rest of the 800 million people are those who have never had the option to consume content like this,” Sethi pointed out. Despite the proliferation of devices, India has been a content-starved country, with only 160 million cable and DTH connections and 200 million TV households as against the population of 1.3 billion. Content for the masses on digital still has a long way to go in the country, he remarked. The panelists agreed that while India had the infrastructure and audience for digital consumption, it needs to build a common currency for digital viewership for advertising-supported video streaming, just as television ratings are used as a barometer for advertisers. According to Geet Lulla, managing director of Gracenote India, however, the subscription model is a completely different ballgame. People subscribe as they want ad interruption-free viewing, he said, adding that it is still unknown how an increasing subscriber base will impact the content producer and the content advertiser. But for the pay-per-view and subscription models, digital entertainment and media still has some ways to go, said Eros’ Sethi, as most streaming services have come to rely on telecom companies for distribution, who offer their services in an aggregated fashion. Therefore, content still reigns supreme and it needs to be compelling enough for people to pay for it. Until that happens, they would rely on other models. Nikhil Pahwa, editor of MediaNama, said that monetisation models in the long-term will tend to be subscription-based as it is still unknown how the impending Personal Data Protection Bill will impact the Internet advertising ecosystem. The second panel discussed how local content could be expanded to a wider audience in other areas in the country and the world. Nitin Vaidya, founder of Dashami Creations, noted that currently all video streaming platforms are acquiring films in regional languages. “It is a myth that regional languages struggle on OTT platforms,” he said. Gautam Talwar, chief content officer at Times Internet’s MXPlayer, said that the deciding factor is content, and how it could be made more discoverable, and not language. “The soul of the OTT platform is storytelling. So, while language is going to be a problem, the discoverability of the content, i.e. stories, is going to be a huge task.” Mukul Khanna, head of digital content and VAS, Vodafone Idea, had a different take on the importance of language. For a large aggregator of content like Vodafone Play, the telco’s streaming application, the first layer of segregation is language. A telco is able to give better recommendations to a user based on language and area location. “A telco knows what language a user prefers when they dial into an IVR and select an option and from where she has dialled in,” Khanna said. Thus, a telcom can deliver more pointed recommendations. “For example, a user in C.R. Park (a Bengali colony in Delhi) has a greater possibility of consuming Bengali content, despite Delhi being a predominantly Hindi speaking city,” he explained. Geography, therefore, is irrelevant, he said. Manisha Pande, executive editor of Newslaundry, gave her perspective on how streaming applications can help news and stressed on the need to not look at news and entertainment as just ‘content’. News is a public service and cannot be equated with entertainment, she said. News should therefore avoid the advertising model and rather opt for subscriptions to ensure that news remains a public good. “Content is about what you like, while the news is what you might not want to hear, might upset governments or companies, what others might not want you to learn,” she explained. Since television debates have turned into predictable acrimonious debates, streaming solutions could help news organisations find new formats, said Aparna Acharekar, head of programming at ZEE5. “The challenge is to get localised stories which are waiting to be discovered,” remarked Nitin Vaidya of Dashami. Gautam Talwar and Nitin Vaidya agreed that there is a vast repository or regional literature which can be serialised for streaming. In his special address, CEO of Prasar Bharti Shashi Shekhar Vempatti highlighted the advancements in digital terrestrial transmission. He spoke about experiments where television transmissions can be beamed to a mobile phone through an Android application. The DTM will work with a television receiver just as many mobile phones have a built in FM receiver. Thus, just like direct-to-home (DTH) that is free to air, this facilitates direct-to-mobile (DTM) transmission and just like DTH needs a set-top box, this requires additional hardware plugged into a mobile device. However, its growth is limited by several constraints. For example, the application doesn’t work on many Andriod versions due to device fragmentation. This could be addressed if the television receiver chip is embedded in the mobile device during manufacturing. As of now, the app supports 10 channels and is available in 19 cities. Vempatti said that Prasar Bharti is trying to overcome these challenges and in the near future, he expects sports broadcasts to be transmitted to mobile devices without buffering pauses experienced on the Internet. Moving to the 5G future, he highlighted the need to build a hybrid architecture which could also meld television transmissions. “We are trying get more out of the broadcasting infrastructure using some of the newer technology, newer protocols like HDFC 3.0 which is being experimented with in the U.S. and Korea or 5G broadcast as long as the end user experience is the same,” he remarked, adding that content delivered using the broadcast infrastructure can be the potential driver of creative economy in India,” he said.
This report has been compiled by Shashidhar K.J., Associate Fellow, ORF, with inputs from research interns Naman Bhatt and Mithulya Murali.
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