Video services

Telco Content War Heats Up in India

Content offerings are emerging as a new battleground in the Indian telecom industry. In an effort to drive data consumption, service providers have announced a number of collaborations and partnerships with content firms in the last few months.

Bharti Airtel Ltd. (Mumbai: BHARTIARTL), India's largest service provider, has formed a partnership with ALTBalaji, one of India's most prominent production houses, to provide its digital content to Airtel TV app users. Airtel has announced similar deals with HotStar, Hooq, Eros Now and SonyLiv. It has also formed an alliance with Amazon for its Prime range of video and ecommerce services.

Archrival Reliance Jio is not too far behind. The company has joined hands with Eros International Media Limited to jointly produce and consolidate content from across the country. They will invest up to 10 billion Indian rupees (around $150 million) to produce and acquire Indian films and original digital content across all languages, according to a recent press statement. RJio company has also signed an agreement to integrate Saavn, a over-the-top music platform, with its own JioMusic service.

It is easy to see why the telcos are ramping up their content offerings. According to the recently released Nokia Mobile Broadband Index, 4G emerged as the key driver of mobile data consumption in 2017 and captured 82% of mobile data traffic that year. The same report indicates that video is the main driver of this 4G growth, accounting for between 65% and 75% of total mobile data traffic. Hindi and regional languages, meanwhile, comprised more than 90% of the popular videos watched online.

The moves show that content has become an important way for Indian service providers to lure customers in the hyper-competitive market. It is also emerging as a differentiating factor for subscribers.

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That's partly because service providers are adopting different strategies to boost their content offerings. RJio, for instance, is acquiring stakes in content companies or going for exclusive tie-ups, implying it wants control over the kind of content produced. Today, RJio a 50% stake in Viacom 18, the parent company of Colors Channel, a popular television channel in India, as well as a 25% stake in Balaji Films. As a stakeholder, it will be able to ensure these companies produce content that appeals to its subscribers.

Airtel, by contrast, is essentially becoming a content aggregator, and has decided to stay away from the production of unique content. That may be a sensible long-term strategy. As data consumption continues to rise, service providers will be hard pressed to come up with unique offerings. But the ones that do will have something that truly sets them apart.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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