Chinese tech giant Alibaba is said to be exploring an over-the-top (OTT) video service (or a media service delivered over the internet) in India in the coming months, according to multiple persons aware of the development. The timeline for the yet-to-be-named product is said to be “the next three months”. The service is likely to be powered by two of Alibaba’s key divisions in India: Paytm*, the Indian payment company where it is the majority stakeholder, and UCWeb, a subsidiary of Alibaba’s media and entertainment business. “It’s an obligatory play [the OTT]. The global player does it, so we have no option but to follow it,” says a senior Paytm official on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The company spent the last three quarters in India scoping the market, with several of its officials from China visiting to meet content creators and production houses in Mumbai. It has also been looking to hire executives specialising in video, specifically, a head of new media business and a strategic alliance head in Gurugram, and a strategic alliance head for video in Gurugram or Mumbai. These roles, sources say, will fall under Alibaba Mobile Business Group’s UCWeb business.
Its first statement of intent, so to speak, came in June last year, when it acquired a majority stake in TicketNew, a Chennai-based online-ticketing website. At the group level, Alibaba’s focus on entertainment in India is overseen by Benny Chen Yan, managing director India, and global strategic alliances, Ant Financial. Chen was instrumental in leading Alibaba’s investment into TicketNew.
Locally, however, Damon Xi, who heads UCWeb in India and Indonesia, has been tasked with the video push. Xi, a general manager in Alibaba’s Mobile Business Group, divides his time between the company’s Gurugram, Jakarta and Guangzhou offices.
In a company statement, Alibaba India said, “India is key in our globalization strategy and we are committed to growing our existing businesses in this market in the long term. As a policy, we do not comment on market speculation.”
That Chinese companies like Alibaba are looking to invest in content in India should not come as a surprise. The numbers speak for themselves. According to Media Partners Asia, a research agency that specialises in media and telecom sectors in the Asia Pacific, India’s online video market is expected to see a near 5x growth from $340 million in 2017 to $1.6 billion in 2022, at a compounded annual growth rate of 35%. That market opportunity, coupled with the two key behavioural indicators—Indians consume the most amount of video content in all of Asia Pacific (12.3 hours per week) and are the world’s biggest data guzzlers—presents a compelling case for these companies.