Archive for February, 2011

Zee Backs Mobile Video

February 14, 2011

Mobile video has one major supporter – Zee Entertainment Enterprises head Punit Goenka. The Indian TV giant’s MD and CEO threw his weight behind the emerging medium during pay-TV body Casbaa’s recent annual convention in Hong Kong.

“This is the way of the future,” he said, speaking days before the launch of India’s first 3G services. “This is what is going to drive content for us.”

In an on-stage interview, Goenka revealed that he was prepared to invest at least 10% of Zee’s profits into developing mobile, echoing the approach the broadcaster took when it made its first forays in Indian markets outside its Hindi-speaking stronghold.

Goenka anticipates a rapid growth in mobile content consumption over the next three to five years, as young Indians, quick to adopt new technology, will be less willing than their parents to sit passively in front of a TV. “I have always believed India is a wireless country,” he said.

A new kind of content
Past experience shows that traditional content creators have struggled with new media, prompting Goenka to recruit a specialist mobile production team that understands technology and the role it plays in young people’s lives.

“I’ve already got a good bunch of youngsters working on this,” Goenka said, “and you’ll see more coming out over the next few years.”

The introduction of 3G services should help boost the number of people accessing the internet from their mobile phones in India from 75 million today to 325 million by 2015, predicted Neeraj Roy, MD and CEO of Indian digital content distributor Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, speaking on a separate conference panel focused on mobile.

By then, telcos should be making more than US$5 billion from value-added services, from around US$1.3 billion today.

“There are about 6.5 million transactions that happen on a daily basis, which are all paid for,” Roy said.

“Now with data being enabled on our networks, there’s going to be growing opportunity for video consumption and so on, albeit in moderation and at price points people have to be accustomed to, as far as India is concerned.”

Product versus business model
Mobile is far from becoming an accepted screen for watching TV, however. For example, only one in 25 people in Asia-Pacific who can watch video on their handsets have actually done so, noted Nicholas Wodtke, Disney Media Distribution’s regional business development and new media VP.

Meanwhile, mobile chip maker Qualcomm, one of the biggest investors in mobile broadcast technology, has decided to shutter its mobile TV service MediaFlo.

The move puts a major dampener on mobile TV’s future prospects, but it was the business model rather than the product that was at fault, argued Qualcomm MediaFlo business development director Ali Zamiri.

“Maybe if we had partnered early on with content providers and operators, forming a cohesive unit and agreeing on a certain business model, we probably would have had a better result and higher subscriber take-up,” Zamiri said.

Qualcomm had set up the network itself, wholesaling content it had aggregated through operators at US$15/month – a price few consumers were willing to pay for the channels on offer.

Cheaper phones, more viewing
Nonetheless, falling prices for smartphones, which provide a much improved viewing experience, hint at a brighter future for mobile video.

Increasing smartphone penetration in Hong Kong has resulted in a sharp increase in viewing per user, reported Han Willem Kotterman, chief strategy officer for Hong Kong network CSL.

“We see mass uptake,” Kotterman predicted, pointing out that data traffic on CSL’s network has already increased by 50 times within one year. “The issue is how are operators going to provide for the bandwidth, and that’s an issue we’re struggling with.”

This spells an end to so-called all-you-can-eat data services, the original stimulus for mobile internet use, a move AT&T has already taken in the US.

It will be a bold move to follow suit in Hong Kong, where five competing operators are all offering unlimited data packages at competitive prices.

Prices must rise, Kotterman argued, so operators can invest in additional bandwidth. “I think at some point, consumers will be willing to pay for a very good experience,” he said. “That’s what we are investing for.”

India’s youth networks get local bent The battle for India’s youth TV market is heating up.

February 14, 2011

Bindass, Indian media conglom UTV’s 3-year-old Hindi-language channel for 18- to 25-year-olds, has stolen the ratings crown away from music giants Viacom’s MTV and Fox’s Channel V, which have slugged it out for the No. 1 spot in the age group for the past 15 years.

More than that, Bindass’ success has spurred its rivals to broaden their content to include more locally made shows.

“MTV and Channel V are great brands, but we always felt that there was a need for a strongly localized Indian brand,” says Bindass CEO Zarina Mehta.

Bindass bowed in 2007 with a mix of music and fiction but, despite a hit comedy — “Sun yaar chill maar,” about a group of college pranksters — it struggled to make headway against its rivals. The recession hit soon after, and the channel had to drastically cut its programming budget.

MTV and V, which began as English-language music channels in the mid-1990s and later added Bollywood hits to satisfy a demand for local music, in recent years included a few reality and fiction shows to their skeds.

MTV enjoyed some success with bike-based show “Roadies” but V lost its way. “We didn’t have clear focus on what we wanted the channel to be; I guess it was drifting,” says V channel head Prem Kamath, who was brought in from sister channel Star to resuscitate the brand.

Bindass re-launched in 2009, with a slew of edgy local reality shows, led by the popular “Emotional atyachar,” which was based on young people questioning their partners’ fidelity.

Anil Wanvari, editor, says the show “changed the entire perception of what youths are willing to watch. It shook the market.”

Bindass’ mix of 51% reality, 40% music and 9% films proved potent. It has topped the A18-24 ratings for the past five months in cities with populations of more than a million in the Hindi-speaking market — once the preserve of MTV and V — according to AC Nielsen subsid Television Audience Measurement.

Bindass’ rivals have countered by widening their distribution into smaller towns where it has no penetration.

In doing so, MTV and Channel V have had to revamp their programming to attract a more rural audience.

V head of content Sheetal Sudhir says the first thing it did was cut music down from 90% to 20% of its sked because there were so many channels playing the same Bollywood music that there was no way to differentiate content among providers.

“We are now appealing to youths in smaller towns by using them in our content,” Sudhir says. “Hence it is inclusive, not exclusive.”

MTV upped its show content to 50% of programming, but as channel head Aditya Swamy says, “Music is the heart of MTV; it always has been and always will be.” However, Swamy notes that the profile of people winning MTV’s reality shows has changed. “They are from the smaller towns and are eager to prove a point to their cool dude counterparts in the big cities.”

V and MTV are moving beyond the TV space to attract ads. They are engaging with youngsters on social networks, university fests, cafes and salons and via merchandising to present the widest reach for advertisers.

“TV is just one of our businesses,” Swamy says. “If our only benchmark is ratings, then life becomes very one-dimensional.”

Going local has worked for V and MTV. For V in particular, 2010 has seen a remarkable return from the doldrums, due to popular shows like “Roomies,” “Dare to Date” and “Lovenet.”

Overall, in Asia, the trend is increasingly toward local content to attract younger viewers.

“The youth segment is being tapped heavily through online, especially in China, Korea and Japan,” says Vivek Couto, exec director of research for film at Media Partners Asia. “In Southeast Asia, TV still has a strong role in the youth segment, especially in Thailand and the Philippines.

“One key development has been the continued growth of local brands — in Korea, there are more than three strong local music and youth brands, mostly controlled by the CJ Group; in China, you have Shanghai Media Group and a host of other satellite broadcasters; in Thailand there’s entertainment major GMM Grammy, which is now producing satellite channels.”

Back in India, despite the popularity of Bindass, MTV and V, there remains one overarching fact: The moment a popular Bollywood film or a cricket match airs, youngsters switch over.