Times Internet, India’s top Web content firm, has continued its push to provide a range of top Internet services after BoxTV — its video streaming service — came out of beta and opened its doors to the public today.
These are busy and exciting days at Times Internet, where — under the stewardship of its young CEO Satyan Gajwani — the company is making headlines. Aside from a series of startup investments, including a deal with Fab.com, it has revamped iTimes into an interest-led social network and released long-awaited mobile apps for music site Gaana, and more.
Now it is the turn of its video service, which launched in alpha in September 2012 — racking up an impressive 100,000 requests — and features more than 17,000 hours of content TV and movie content.
“Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton said that Netflix will change the way people watch TV. BoxTV is India’s answer to Netflix.” Those are bold words from Gajwani, but no single service dominates the India niche, which has serious potential, both in India and worldwide.
Like Gaana, the approach for BoxTV is two-pronged: to become India’s most popular video content site — with a mix of local and international programming — and offer “the most complete set” of India-themed movie and TV content for international audiences.
Times Internet isn’t alone in pursuing this dual strategy, pretty much every content firm out of India is trying this playbook, and it makes sense given the worldwide audience that Bollywood films, in particular, enjoy.
The company has leveraged its influence in India — it is the Web-focused arm of media conglomerate The Times Group — to bring in some impressive partnerships.
International studios including Sony Pictures Television, Disney UTV and Celestial Entertainment are on board to provide Hollywood content, while domestic equivalents UTV Motion Pictures, Shemaroo Entertainment, Rajshri Entertainment and Everymedia Technologies are providing the India-focused programming.
Box offers a basic service with ads for free, but access to premium content is restricted to customers that pay INR199 per month in India ($4.99 overseas), for the all-you-can-eat subscription package. That’s actually an introductory price, so it could change in the future.
Times Internet says that the free-to-view content will be a mix of older programming or content that is available publicly on sites like YouTube. Its content push is towards a paid-for movies and TV shows. Though it won’t mirror Netflix in creating its own content, Gajwani says it will help some studios digitize their catalogue for the first time:
Today, there’s a huge base of Indian content which isn’t easily accessible by Indians globally, and so we want to serve our user base by making that connection. As we scale I’m sure our strategy will evolve as well, but today, we are really connecting content and users in a way that isn’t significantly there. In many cases, we’re the ones helping to digitize movie catalogs for a content producer for the first time.
Initially available on the Web only, Times Internet says that the service will be available on multiple platforms, Times Internet says it has plans to support iOS and Android, as well as streaming boxes like Roku. The apps are being shown off at Ad:Tech in New Delhi this week, but Gajwani expects them to launch “over the next couple of days”.
The service connects to Facebook, for those who prefer to avoid the rigmarole of registering a BoxTV account and want to enjoy the benefits of the social network’s social graph. A number of the movies featured in the main space at the top of the page aren’t available for free accounts (which is somewhat frustrating), although there is a large selection of predominantly dated India content (see below for more).
Content discovery is critical for any video site. In addition to the usual sorters, such as genre-based menus, BoxTV uses a series of social mechanisms — including updates on who is interacting with what via Facebook — to help encourage discovery. ‘Popular’ and ‘Just Added’ sections help showcase what’s hot and new at any given time. The service ‘learns’ what users like and watch and serves up suggestions based on that.
The site supports six different languages, providing regional support for Indians that prefer their local option instead of English.
Some of the older content is understandably not as crisp as you might expect, but newer films run well. The option to run a lights-off mode (which blackens out the background in the browser to highlight the video player pane) and scene skip are two nice features.
The service is rivaled by Singapore-based Spuul and, to a lesser extent Viki, which includes India among its wide global focus. Spuul is coming at things from a very different angle. Aside from the difference in company size, Spuul already has apps for Android, iOS and Facebook and is singularly focus on Indian content-only.
The presence of two India-focused firms brings more competition, and that’s good for users who will enjoy the benefits of choice. The overseas market for Indian programming alone covers tens of millions of second-generation and expatriated users, let alone the vast but growing audience in India.
Given that potential to become a hugely lucrative space, it’s no surprise to see that the competition is heating up.
Headline image via testing / Shutterstock