Growing online video in India

by rohit on May 8, 2010

You Tube India

You Tube India : Poor cataloguing & inadequate local content

Online video will be a ‘killer app’ for the Internet (along with social media).    I said this on this blog in 2007.

Online video is certainly on the up. 45% of India’s Internet users watched online video or music in 2009, compared to only 32% in 2008. (Source : ICube 2009 , the annual report by IMRB-IAMAI on India’s Internet market).

And, says the report, this increased consumption of online video and social media spurred an overall increase in Internet usage. India’s Internet users, who all through the last decade were on the Net for an average of 5 to 10 hours per month, spent 15.7 hours online per month in 2009 (9.3 hours/month in 2008).

Increasing broadband penetration in India must be helping video consumption. Over half the Internet population is now ‘broadband’ (7.82 million subscribers out of 15.24 million subs, or 51.3% of total with > 256 kbps, as on end Dec ’09) (Source : TRAI).

In the U.S., 87% of the Internet audience watches online video. These users average half a dozen videos a day totaling a viewing time of 25 minutes. Growth in usage has been over 40% year-on-year. Even here, it’s early days.


In India, online video’s days have yet to come, we are just getting started. I believe online video in India will be big, even bigger relative to other Internet content than it is in the U.S. market. Here’s why :

Only 91 million Indians – of the billion plus who exist – claim to know English.  The majority of these are not fluent at all (by one estimate only 35 million can really use it). This means for Internet to take off in India we need local language content.

Unfortunately, Internet content in local languages such as Hindi and Tamil has not really grown. And there seems no indication that it ever will (much has been written on this elsewhere, including on this blog).

India’s Internet thus is trapped in the twilight zone of poor English comprehension and inadequate local content (text).

Yet, thanks to some upcoming initiatives, Internet access will explode in the next 2-3 years. These initiatives include rural broadband / Wimax, mass penetration of mobile phones, decreasing price of Internet access on mobile phones, etc.

It is online video that can feed the requirement of the masses for Internet content. Video doesn’t need reading skills; it will be in Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati et al. It’s for the masses: it’s an inherently lazy form of entertainment and doesn’t need cultural savvy as does ‘social networking.’

Here’ are some previous posts on local language content for the Internet :

More on the agenda to grow the Indian Internet market

An agenda to grow the Indian Internet market


Today, online video is synonymous with You Tube. More so in India than in the U.S. As it stands, however, You Tube has some weaknesses :

(i) You Tube’s videos are not well-catalogued. One would have liked a Directory. The current ‘Browse’ section is not really a Directory, it’s not deep enough. And, I believe, ‘search’ is not good enough for a category like video, with the Indian market being as basic as it is.

(ii) Most You Tube content is amateur videos, thus not the most appealing.

(iii) Indians have not, so far, been either prolific or quality content creators on the Web. Our websites and blogs do not measure up to the standards one sees in U.S. sites.

Likewise, in the case of videos, amateur uploads are few and far between. India currently ranks at the bottom among countries in terms of video uploads, so inform my ‘sources in Google India’.

The above factors today bottleneck adoption of You Tube / online video. And by extension, hinder the growth of the Internet per se.


1. Mega-events on You Tube

Premium rather than amateur content can boost You Tube growth.

The last post was about the IPL3 cricket tournament on You Tube. This was a watershed event for You Tube, for Google in India and for the Indian Internet industry. It’s created buzz (this NY Times article is,by the way, inaccurate. got 50 million pageviews, not 50 million viewers).

It’s inspiring Google to think of hosting other sports events on You Tube.

This makes sense. Streaming movies online is still iffy, the movie industry – Hollywood and Bollywood – being most wary of possible piracy.  That leaves TV programs and events, notably sports events, that can go online.

2. Curated video sites

Fora TV is a site that features content from elite conferences – such as the World Economic Forum – where scientists, authors, intellectuals, captains of industry, world leaders and other such smart people gather to tell one another what they’re thinking, planning and doing.

Academic Earth is a site that aggregates video lectures of different universities.

These are video sites on compelling subjects where the content has been editorially ‘curated’. Can we have more such sites in India too ? Or is it too much to expect considering the volume and quality of professional videos  available ?

3. Sites with premium content


Hulu : Premium content from leading TV channels & a great interface

In the U.S., sites such as Vimeo and Hulu host premium content – from studios. Hulu is a joint venture of three of the 4 biggest U.S. broadcasters viz. ABC, Fox and NBC. Then there are Netflix, Apple TV (iTunes) as well as the broadcaster’s (CBSABC et al) websites themselves. From U.K., we have iPlayer from the BBC.

These sites cannot for the most part be accessed in India (guess there’s a concern about piracy ?). We need some such sites – with local content – here in India too.

4. The Internet can be your TV

The above choices on web  are causing some to switch. 800,000 U.S. households are believed to have terminated their C & S connections and switched to web TV. This is less than 1% of the 110 million U.S. households having Cable or Satellite.

However, many more households are now dual users of C & S and online TV.

Unlike a TV set which is usually tethered to a fixed location, one can watch TV in the kitchen off a laptop. Laptops, PCs and now the iPad make it convenient to view TV in multiple locations within a home. This is a niche market that online TV serves well.

Then there are online TV aggregator sites showing TV programs, taking on C & S. These appear to be of moderate quality but have several attractive claims. With a $45 one time payment you can watch 2100 channels for ever, they say, why pay more for the cable or satellite options. Here is another one.

Online video can complement TV in other ways. TV has been around for over 50 years, but thus far it was not possible to watch old programs. These old programs can get an extended lease of life, and online communities can form around them. Here is one.

One can also download these shows for later viewing and avail of other interactive value-adds.

5. Online video is coming to the mobile Internet too

IPL3 matches were streamed over mobile phones too. About 3.7 million video views equalling 15,000 video hours were streamed over the mobile by couple of companies. The technology was developed to enable the matches to be seen over GPRS. (Didn’t get a chance to test this myself, though).

Mobile video has been big in markets like Japan and South Korea; here too things should look up now that 3G is on the anvil.


The industry has slowly but surely learnt to overcome the engineering challenges of  ‘simulcasting’ over the Web. For example, Akamai says it handled U.S. college basketball playoffs on the web last year with hundreds of thousands of live simultaneous viewers. While they have done such events for several years now, this was the first time that the majority of the users were on a 1 Mbps+ connection. The quality, while not excellent, was watchable.

One may presume that one day there will be a ‘celestial jukebox’, where video, TV and music will all be in the ‘cloud’. We will be able to access this content over any device, be it PC, netbook, iPad, TV or cellphone. Companies like Apple and Disney are working towards it.

Online video may one day be ubiquitous and effective. These are early days. And, as I said above, for Internet in India to grow, content in the form of online video is key.

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