Video streaming platforms are not chasing subscribers anymore.

For a good three years now, video streaming has witnessed a gold rush. Every production, broadcasting and content distribution company in town has either launched or is on its way to launch its own video streaming platform. With one goal—to replicate the subscription success of American streaming giant Netflix.

In these three years, content broke character in India, cutting out the middlemen—cable and satellite TV providers—and going straight to the consumer. But now, faced with the reality of an oversupplied market, streaming services are increasingly turning to a new set of middlemen: aggregators.

Because while India’s online video viewer base rose 25% in 2018 to about 325 million, according to a March report by industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and consulting firm EY, less than 5% of them are willing to pay for content. And advertising, the platforms’ other revenue stream, generates a paltry Rs 5 ($0.07) per user per year, according to at least two industry executives who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media. 

Caught between a rock and a hard place, many smaller platforms are licensing their original content to telecom companies like Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio or to other streaming services like MX Player. All of whom give their users the same paywalled content for free, or at a steep discount.

In the process, streaming services like SonyLIV, ALTBalaji, HOOQ, Zee5 and Eros Now lose exclusivity to their content, making the value proposition of their own subscriptions even weaker. And the aggregators they sell to become even stronger, gaining the ability to offer a wide range of content to their own subscribers.

With distributors back in charge, the streaming market is looking ever more like the cable television industry it was meant to disrupt.

Follow the leader

“The idea was to not miss out on the streaming opportunity. Everybody wanted to be present here to be able to get a share of a market that was exploding,” says an executive at a leading video streaming company; one of the two cited earlier.

Entertainment companies of all hues launched their own video streaming platforms. Broadcasting companies like Star India, Sony Pictures, Zee and Viacom18 (a joint venture between US-based Viacom and Indian broadcaster TV18). Production houses like Balaji Telefilms and Eros International. Regional entertainment companies like Sun TV and SVF Entertainment. Even satellite TV companies like Dish TV and Tata Sky.

Business models be damned, no one wanted to be left out.


Harveen Ahluwalia

In her last assignment, Harveen was at Mint, the business daily published by HT Media. At Mint, where she spent about two years, she wrote stories on retail, food and the media business. Harveen is a B.Com (H) graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. She has a diploma in journalism from the Times School of Journalism. Like many folks at The Ken, Harveen talks and tweets a lot. When she isn’t writing or reading, she likes to sketch and doodle. She can be reached at harveen at the-ken dot com.

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