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Can Over-The-Top (OTT) TV be a reality in India?

It was the summer of 2002 when my love affair with Sex and the City blossomed. I was in a committed long distance relationship with the sitcom. I absolutely adored Carrie Bradshaw and I loved Samantha and her optimism. Unfortunately like any Indian love story, my love story had a villain in the form of the stone-aged Indian Television Industry; since Sex and the city wasn’t a mainstream soap it was available only on select channels where it was aired after 10pm. Back in those days the Indian television wasn’t as advanced as it now and it was the time when making a railway reservation physically was way easier than doing it on the internet.

I would religiously wait for the Sunday supplement of ‘‘The Telegraph’’ to know what had happened in the sitcom. I was kind of done with this waiting and I was about to break up when a friend of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of Over-The- Top TV in 2005. Over the Top (OTT) refers to video, television and other services provided over the internet rather than via a service provider’s own dedicated, managed IPTV network. Suddenly life was good and I had hope but honestly the hope died exactly 72 minutes later. I was trying to stream the episode and it took 72 minutes to just stream the first 15 minutes of the episodes.

As Carrie Bradshaw would say, ‘‘we are living in a world where no one has breakfast at Tiffany’s and no one has affairs to remember.’’ People are always on the move. The fact is OTT as a concept is lovely.  I wouldn’t want to be dependent on my television service provider’s timings to watch soaps and sitcoms. I would want to watch it on my i-pad per my convenience and OTT lets me do that. It would have been all hunky dory if I was born in the USA or may be the UK but I was born in India. We are still living in an age of ‘’Buffering’’. Indian online ecosystem lacks the needed infrastructure, broadband is in a pathetic state, the internet penetration is less than 16% and online commerce is still in a nascent phase in the Indian market and regulatory delays are not new to any of us.

I feel over-the-top television can be a reality in India eventually with time but the following factors are working against it at the moment:

  1. India has the 2nd largest population in the world (~ 1280 Million) but the internet penetration in India is just 16% and the average speed is less than 2mbps. This is rather disappointing.
  2. Online Payment is still an issue. The credit system isn’t as developed as the first world countries. The trust factor is not high and most of the times credit card payments do not go through. This has led to an increase in Cash on Delivery and Pre paid recharge cards.
  3. Content is the king when it comes to the success of any Over-The-Top television. In India, there is a lot of delay in acquiring the rights and permission.
  4. India is a diverse market. Every state has its own language and television channels. This gives rise to an increase in content however the Over-The-Top providers have very dated content and hence they don’t have a big fan base.

However all is not lost and there is still hope. There are a few growing ISPs which provide fast internet at a reasonable cost.  For example ACT broadband provides internet speed up to 80 mbps. This is a positive change and will definitely increase the internet user base. A number of telecom companies like IDEA, Airtel and Aircell have introduced internet in the rural India. They have lucrative internet schemes for the price sensitive Indian consumers. With the advent of CC Avenues Citrus and Paytm online transaction has started gaining trust .But again Indian market is quite price sensitive. Is an Indian consumer who has access to a good broadband connection willing to pay to watch a movie? With unregulated content easily available over the internet through torrents and other p2p sharing methods we are still far from it. In an age of increasing D2H competition, can OTT providers put a compelling benefit for mass adoption? These are few questions and I don’t have answers to at the moment.

The optimistic side, the early adaptor side and the side to me which appreciates anything new does say that Over-The-Top (OTT) TV can definitely be a reality in India.

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