Just over one year ago, Viacom 18 launched its own OTT service, Voot, to take advantage of the digital divide (and, by extension, "screen" divide) in India.
While fewer than two-thirds of India households have TVs, and only 23% of the population uses the Internet, both figures are expected to grow rapidly in the next three years. As adoption grows, predicts Viacom 18 Group CEO Sudhanshu Vats, Indians will demand their choice of screen and choice of connection when consuming video. Accordingly, video content providers and distributors must be ready to so serve.
Telco Transformation sat down with Vats to get his take on digital video trends in India, and throughout the world. Below, in Part 1 of this Q&A (edited for length and clarity), Vats shares Viacom 18's driving philosophy behind OTT. In the upcoming Part 2, Vats goes on to talk about key trends in AR/VR and AI-driven analytics for video content.
Telco Transformation: Tell me about the deployment of Voot; why that was deemed necessary, and how you see that transforming the future of Viacom 18 and its viewers?
Sudhanshu Vats: Voot was necessary because … the world is moving more and more digital, as we say. So for us as storytellers, we've got to -- [and] the starting point at Viacom 18 [is] that progressively we should -- become screen- and pipe-agnostic. Irrespective of what screen the consumer wants to consume us, we should be available and should have an option for the consumer to be there. Irrespective of what pipe the content will move from -- whether that is a conventional cable, or the direct-to-home satellite-top box, or fiber-optic, or no pipe at all (which is your WiFi) -- we should have options available for our content to go through all pipes. We have to be screen- and pipe-agnostic.
So one of the most important milestones in this journey is what we call Voot, and it's just the beginning. We've launched it as an advertising OTT [service] -- so it is a free platform; it is basically an advertising and video-on-demand platform. But as we go forward we intend to build a portfolio around Voot, perhaps [with] different forms of video on demand, so not necessarily only advertising.
TT: Would it be fair to say then that OTT solutions are attractive because of that agnosticism?
SV: Yes. Yes, you're absolutely right. But just to give you an Indian flavor…
India already has 300 million-plus Internet users, and this number is growing very rapidly; this is likely to move to about 600 million -- and some people argue maybe 800 million -- by 2020. So that is the rapid pace at which people will be connected or will have the ability to stream.
India now has close to about 240 million smartphones, and [will] likely add about 100 million smartphones over the next two to three years as smartphones become more affordable, more easily accessible, to consumers.
Look at the availability of phones and availability of Internet connections coupled with some of the latest initiatives taken by Reliance Jio and then followed by others in terms of data speed, data quality and data costs. Data speed and data quality are scaling up almost in a geometric progression, and data costs are coming down considerably.
That being the case, the combination of access to data, more Internet users, more availability of smartphones -- Indians, like anywhere else in the world, [want] to consume video when they want to consume it, where they want to consume it, and how they want to consume it. That's the digital trend now for video anywhere in the world.
TT: When you talk about this agnosticism, do you just mean optimizing mobile services?
SV: No. I mean here both mobile [and traditional viewing].
India is at a very interesting cusp. If you look at the number of TV homes in India, there are 64%. The total number of households in India is 270 million plus, in a population of 1.3 billion. Of the 270 million homes, 180 million homes have television, so there is, first of all, another 80 to 90 million homes who will have television as well. It's a country which is at different stages. If you were to bifurcate the country, there are certain people who would like to move to television. At the same time, everybody owns mobile.
Therefore, it's [about the] ability to continue to cater to more conventional TV viewing, which I think has legs to go and has the runway for some time for sure in media terms, coupled with the new revolution -- especially with the youngsters, where you're getting a lot of mobile usage and personalized consumption because this is a personal device.
That's what I mean by being agnostic. So you've got to be prepared for both worlds, prepared for the new world [but] at the same time, not be in a hurry about abandoning traditional television -- because I think TV also has legs in India for a long time.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation