Global OTT players are late to the party.
Indian players like Hotstar and Hungama Play have surged ahead with customisation tailored for the Indian viewer, reports Urvi Malvania.
The battle for consumers' time and pocket is heating up for over-the-top (OTT) players in India.
Netflix introduced the download feature on Android and iOS devices last week, more than a year after American peer Amazon Prime Video introduced it.
Netflix is late to the party in India, too, since the feature comes to India almost two years after Star India's Hotstar, eight months after Hungama and almost a year after Eros' platform Eros Now offered offline playback of movies on tablets and phones on premium subscription.
'While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, they also want to continue their binge while on airplanes, and other places where the internet is limited or expensive. This new feature on phones and tablets on Android and iOS makes it even easier to watch Netflix on the go. At this point in time, we don't have anything to share yet regarding other devices,' Netflix said in an emailed response to queries sent by Business Standard.
In a country like India, considering data cost is important as OTT players have realised.
Siddharth Roy, chief executive officer, Hungama.com, says: "Relative to income, data costs in India are still pretty high and consumers find it cheaper to download content over Wi-Fi and watch it later."
In a way, this strategy takes inspiration from the fact that India is notorious for downloading content via torrents.
Consumers are already in the habit of downloading content and providing the feature through legitimate means at no additional cost (with the exception of Eros Now), plays on an established habit.
Netflix may find itself lagging in India, something that is new to the American video streaming giant, feels Ajit Mohan, CEO (digital) at STAR India.
"Netflix is not used to being a laggard in online video. And yet, the reality of India is that it is Hotstar that is shaping the premium OTT video space. We made the download feature available for users right from the start -- perhaps one of the first premium OTT platforms in the world to open up a vast library of high-quality TV shows and movies available for users to download."
Mohan's conviction is supported by analytics and business intelligence firm App Annie's data that say for the week of November 19, watch time on Netflix was 126 million minutes, a fraction of the 2.2 billion minutes registered on Hotstar.
Indian players are taking it up a notch now.
Hotstar is set to release certain features within the download option. In the coming months, users will be able to schedule downloads according to a time frame of their choosing and, in another first, the platform will allow peer-to-peer sharing of content.
"We see this as the path to opening up online video for the next 100 million users in India. No OTT platform in the world has attempted to go in this direction," says Mohan.
The app has crossed 130 million downloads since launch and registered 50 million users in November.
Hungama Play has the scheduled time download feature, along with scheduled zone (Wi-Fi zone or mobile data) and memory allocation to specified content.
"The uptake for the service has been good," Roy says. "We see that consumption by those using the cache feature is three to five times that of those using streaming only. The download service has helped us improve stickiness on the app as well."
For Hotstar, however, the majority of the consumption comes from the streaming service, which could be partly attributed to the app's aggressive play in the live sports section.
The company recently launched a campaign advertising the feature, and Mohan reveals that the spike in the use of the download facility has been huge.
The download feature comes with its set of piracy threats. Currently, all the OTT providers have put in limits to how long will the downloaded content be available on the device, and prevent sharing of any kind.
Pay per view items are available offline for 72 hours while subscription video on demand content is available for 30 days.
On Netflix, some titles, viewing offline must be completed within 48 hours of starting the play.
When it comes to the proposed peer-to-peer sharing feature, Mohan says that the team has cracked the technology that allows the content to be shared and viewed only within the Hotstar app between peers.
While Indian players seem to have the upper hand when it comes to consumer insight in India and Netflix seems to be lagging, Amazon Prime Video, which is yet to launch in the country, will have its work cut out for it.
"Netflix has already taken away the first-mover advantage from Amazon (between the two), and going by the Indian content deal announcements, I don't see a hopeful picture at least at the start. Library content will only go so far in stickiness and Amazon will be heavily dependent on the price proposition," says an OTT industry executive.
"Of course, there is hope that they will get the IPL (Indian Premier League) rights, but that is one event and there is no clarity on when the bids will be awarded given the mess the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) is in with the Supreme Court," the OTT industry executive adds.