It was almost two years ago MTV introduced MTV Desi, a music channel targeting the South Asians living in America. At the time, I argued that Viacom was barking up the wrong tree. Having started and operated a South Asian-focused site called Desiparty.com, I had knowledge about the market.
Viacom should be showing the same content over broadband networks, I said then. The South Asian diaspora is Internet savvy, and broadband is the perfect opportunity for niche channels.
Whatever the reasons, MTV finally came to this realization, and now others are finding that offering niche Indian-made content over broadband could be a viable and profitable business proposition. Two years later, Indian content is showing the way for broadband video, attracting paying customers and — crazily enough — utilizing online distribution as a way to combat piracy. And if it works for South Asian content, then other communities with high broadband penetration may follow.
Today, South Asian content available over cable networks is expensive, and can set subscribers back anywhere between $15 to $40 per month. But if similar fare — Bollywood movies, television programs, music videos and soap operas — were available at a substantially lower price, then demand could go up.
The South Asians are happy to pay up. WillowTV, a service that offers live cricket broadcasts, has found ex-pat fans are happy to shell out over $150 to watch a series of cricket games, especially during major international events like the World Cup. Narrowstep, a Princeton-based company, is trying exactly that, and has partnered with Watch India to launch a groundbreaking new Internet TV channel. In its first month alone, Watch India has received 100,000 unique viewers, Narrowstep claims. For just $25-a-month subscribers get some of the top Indian cable channels via their browser.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Indian content houses have realized that and are working hard to make all their content available over broadband. We recently met with Rajjat Barjatya, who runs Rajshri.com, a broadband video site that offers 6000 hours of ad-supported video programming including 250 movies and television shows.
Launched in November 2006, Rajshri.com is getting about 1.5 million unique visitors a month, and serves up 15 million video streams a month. It is creating 10 new online-only video shows, including a 90-episode series.
Barjatya, who comes from a family with deep roots in Indian cinema, has been pushing the concept of releasing movies online the same day at their theatrical release. In his opinion, broadband offers a way to overcome the lack of available screens at multiplexes for Indian movies in the U.S.
This week, one of his partners, UTV, an Indian Entertainment company announced that it would release one of its movies, Fear, exclusively online, while another, The Blue Umbrella, will be released simultaneously over broadband and in theaters.
“Our audiences overseas have lesser ease of access to our films as compared to audiences here in India,” said Siddharth Roy Kapur, UTV Motion Pictures exec VP, marketing, distribution and syndication. “Using the Internet as a medium of distribution is the way forward for content owners to combat piracy, which is to have movies available for viewing legitimately online.” [Variety]
While video downloads and ad-supported streams are the chosen routes for video distribution for now, our sources say that Indian content houses are working with Joost and Jaman, two new P2P video distribution platforms.