India's Mobile First Approach to Online Video

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Mobile phones in India generated unprecedented (and often unanticipated) challenges to values, norms and practices.

This final blog post in the series exploring video on demand around the world focuses on India, a country with a massive population, a large youth demographic, a rapidly growing online infrastructure and a huge number of mobile phone users. The video on demand space has evolved with a mobile-first approach, as both tech companies and content providers have recognised an opportunity to reach their potential audience.

Howrah Bridge Market by Reuben Strayer on Flickr. Used here under creative commons license.

Howrah Bridge Market by Reuben Strayer on Flickr. Used here under creative commons license.

With a population of 1.2 billion people, India is the second largest country in the world. A culturally diverse nation, the 2007 constitution lists 22 recognised languages, 11 of which have 30 million speakers or more.

It also has a very young population, with a median age of 27, several years younger than the global average of 30 and younger by a third than the UK has a median age of 40. It is this youth demographic which is driving digital development in the region.

With 400 million living in urban areas, India is second only to China in terms of urban population, and there is planned investment of US$1.2 billion in the creation of 100 smart cities. As well as this investment, the government of India has brought in reforms to develop the country’s digital infrastructure and empower its citizens. India has a quarter of a billion people online, and, with 3,100 startups, it is the 3rd largest startup industry in the world.

Key to India’s digital development is its massive mobile user base, with nearly 1 billion mobile subscribers. And the number of smartphone users is increasing, as government support for local manufacturers such as Micromax and Lava has helped to see an influx of affordable smartphones.

Mobile access accounts for three-quarters of the online population and 70% of online page views come from mobile devices. This means the Internet in India is largely a mobile first experience, contrasting with regions such as the US and Scandinavia, where the web and video on demand initially developed on personal computers and laptops. Consequently, people may have a different expectation of the Internet, and by extension online products, and it is important to understand how Internet connected platforms are being used in order to appreciate people’s needs and expectations.

The popularity of messaging services such as WhatsApp, which account for 44% of mobile app use, suggests the importance of direct, personal communication among smartphone users in India.

Cell Phone Envy by Stefano Ravalli on Flickr. Used here under creative commons license.

Cell Phone Envy by Stefano Ravalli on Flickr. Used here under creative commons license.

As well as allowing for greater communications, the advent of increasingly affordable smartphones has opened up “a pathway to games, music and video” to a wider range of people who would have previously been excluded, according to the anthropologist Assa Doron and Indian scholar Robin Jeffrey, authors of The Great Indian Phone Book (2013), which examines mobile phone use in India.

Products which enable users to play locally stored content have found some traction. The South Korean media player MX Player, which supports most video formats, is the 6th most downloaded Android app in the country.

While on the one hand this raises the spectre of content being illegally downloaded and shared, it also points to the need for products to make provision for India's slow Internet speeds (Ookla's net index clocks it at 7.3 Mbps for broadband and 4.3 Mbps for mobile, well behind the global average of 23.8 Mbps and 12.4 Mbps respectively).

In mobile video streaming, early innovators such as Apalya, Zenga TV and the California-based Vuclip, were able to gain popularity by providing localised content on platforms optimised for feature phones on 2G data networks, before moving on to more advanced platforms.

With improving Internet connectivity and increasingly affordable smartphones, a growing number of OTT video streaming services, such as Box TV, Eros Now and Spuul have emerged on both web and mobile platforms, resulting in a market that feels saturated with products claiming a user centred design approach.

Unsurprisingly, incumbent broadcasters and Pay TV providers also want a piece of the action, and many have online video streaming products of their own.

For broadcasters, this presents an opportunity to reach a wider audience who have traditionally been excluded by the need to pay for a cable or satellite subscription. Major Indian TV networks including Star, Sony TV and Colors TV all provide access to both live and on demand content on both web and mobile.

For Pay TV operators, online video streaming offers a way of adding value existing services, often emphasising the value of watching TV on the go, such as Dish TV, who’s online proposition promises users “your entertainment will never leave your side.”

Pay TV operators are also exploiting mobile platforms as a means to allow the users to manage and ‘recharge’ (top-up) their accounts, developing products to meet consumers' growing use of mobile to conduct online transactions.

While many of their mobile products feel like they borrow from the same white label designs, the exposure to a wide audience who accessing the Internet via smartphones means that developing products on these devices is an increasingly important strategy for content providers.

The trend in mobile video consumption looks likely to continue. Nielsen predicts that with an increasing prevalence of the Internet in rural areas and a growing smartphone penetration, India’s young population are driving the consumption of video on the go.

The development and widespread adoption of mobile devices in India is a key driving force in India’s digital development. As well as being a key means to keep in touch with friends and family, growing number of consumers are using their mobiles for activities including sharing photos, e-commerce and watching video content.

Building for mobile is becoming a core part of the product strategy for many content providers in India. Increasingly affordable smartphones provide a means to bypass traditional cable and satellite channels to reach a wider audience than ever before.

South India Street Scene 1 by Ryan on Flickr. Used here under creative commons license.

South India Street Scene 1 by Ryan on Flickr. Used here under creative commons license.

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