Insights into Online Video – The Desi Factor

13 05 2007

I’ve been ranting about different things for the past two months, but haven’t really gone into what I do. Well, I have but not entirely. Some of you might be wondering, “Just what does he do?” Others might be wondering, “Uh huh! Ok! So whats that got do with this post?” Other’s might not give a damn. Still I”m gonna give you a little insight into my “normal” world. I’m doing this cause some people have come to the conclusion that I’m a HR consultant. Please, I have my standards. I won’t sink that low on a full-time basis. To those HR folks reading this, it’s nothing personal. It’s just that I’d rather do something more “interesting”. I am a technical consultant primarily, and in starting up new operations HR is a big part of the equation, not my sole interest.

Anyway, back to my story. one of the projects that I’m working on currently has to do with online video. I can hear those groans, “Not another YouTube clone!” Well, it’s a yes and no kind of answer. Yes, we’re into online video like YouTube, but no we’re not the same as YouTube. With over 300+ YouTube clones already on the market, and over 100 million videos circulating out on the ‘Net [though many may be duplicated on multiple sites], you can only survive if you focus on a new direction.

I’ve come to the conclusion that YouTube was a freak of nature that can only happen once. If you look at the market metrics, the Google-YouTube monopoly dominates the online video sharing market by over 50%. The initial MySpace binge and the consequent Google buyout have made YouTube synonymous with online video in the minds of the general public. So the other 300+ sites out there are scrambling to pick up whats left, which makes it a very crowded space to fight for breadcrumbs. Not to mention the associated headaches of how to attract users and how to make money at the end of it all.

Taken in the Indian context though, the market still has opportunity. I don’t think there’s another society in the world that’s as obsessed with TV as the Indian diaspora. The key driver of online video is the availability of broadband internet access (512k+), which is just starting to become mainstream in India. Okay, there are a few Indian-oriented video sites out there that already, but their content is what I’d call “base”. This isn’t me trying to put down my competitors. But when the majority of the videos on those sites are “Sachin’s Greatest Knocks”, or “Guru Movie Trailer” or “Hot Desi Chick Stripping” [I kid you not about the last one, there’s literally TONS of adult content on these sites, all “contributed” by the users] you end up getting a little stifled for choice.

If you get on YouTube, you have access to a variety of content that covers quite a few topics, everything from comedies to documentaries. You don’t get that variety on the Indian sites today. If you’re obsessive about Indian movies (mainly Hindi), then you might be sated by the stuff you find currently on Indian video sharing sites. But if you want variety all in one place, then sorry but there isn’t much choice for you.

Getting back to the Indian obsession with TV. India is a country with over 40 regional languages [I’m sure its more, but I didn’t want to appear too stupid and say 400 or 4000. 40+ is safer but still gets my point across]. Practically every state has its own unique language. And especially in South India, Hindi is not as common as in North India. Sitting in Madras, my TV provides me with access to over 100+ channels [without a special cable box], of which a large percentage is in regional languages showing things like news, soaps [serials in Desi Lingo], and of course movies. All this is pretty much the same as in the US, but the primary difference between the US market and the Indian market is the variety of languages in which content is being produced. This variety of content is why an average Indian household’s TV is on for at least 6 hours day, and that governments are giving away free TVs to win elections. The sheer variety of content ensures that there is something for almost everyone to watch, so people are obsessed with watching TV. This variety of content is king.

So, the key to online video in India is to project it as Web TV. Why TV??? As I mentioned before, TV in India implies variety of content. And that’s exactly what you need to capture users. I don’t think the Indian online video viewing public is at that stage yet where they’ll contribute their own videos ‘en masse’, so its primarily a passive video watching environment, i.e. TV that’s available online. So, you need to get people to treat it like TV. To do that, you need the right kind of content. You can’t manage this if you’re only working with 4 kinds of content, although I’m sure the porno-maniacs out there will beg to differ and go into the variety of content available in certain genres.

And if you can create a sense of ownership which says to people, “This is your own TV channel! Do what you want with it! Add your own videos! Organize what you want, how you want!”, you can capture the hearts and minds of users. And the advertisers will follow. That’s how you make money in this game.

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