Shreyas Kulkarni

JioFiber offers to make your TV smart...

In a long-form ad, JioFiber dumbs down the way it combines OTT apps -Netflix, Amazon, etc- DTH and more.

"DTH bhi, OTT bhi, YouTube bhi, browser, video conference, voice search, sab kuchh."

It's a line from JioFiber's new six-minute-plus 'infomercial', a glimpse into the brand's ability to accumulate different, yet in-demand offerings on a single access point.

Through a couple's little argument, the brand lays out its multiple offerings, such as a single point of access to over 10 OTT apps, a 4K set-top box that lets you stream online content on your 'non-smart TV', voice search for your favourite entertainment options, and high-quality video calling. It also makes sure to dumb it down in the ad for some reason.

What is JioFiber? Launched in 2019, it is a broadband service. This is what its website says, "... is the technology of the future. It offers the ultimate broadband experience to surf, stream, game and work... beats the rest because of its ultra-fast upload and download speeds, and effective functioning in merely ‘milliseconds’. Imagine a high-speed private Internet highway right inside your home."

The ad mostly focuses on one aspect – the ability to stream OTT content on a non-smart TV with a set-top box that is a part of JioFiber's offering. This, however, is not exclusive. The new Airtel Xstream bundle, for instance, has similar offerings.

If you can make your TV 'smart' by using a broadband connection and a set-top box, will it negatively impact the sale of smart TVs? It will impact the need to upgrade to a smart TV, says Viren Razdan, managing director at Brand – nomics.

The ad, he says, "... is aggressively hitting out that you won't need a smart TV anymore, don't waste your money (there), and is very analytical in its explanation."

Viren Razdan
Viren Razdan

Razdan told afaqs! that JioFiber is looking at the belly of the market - people who bought a (non-smart) television 5-6 years ago, and are now looking to upgrade. "That's a massive bank of people, and Jio has junked the entire theory of upgrading to a smart TV, powered by technology. You don't need it."

The fact that JioFiber lets you not only stream online content, but also watch regular TV channels, poses a new challenge for DTH service providers. To this, Razdan says that Reliance's (JioFiber's parent company) strategy is to 'massify' and democratise any aspect of the category it is entering, and force a recalibration of the price-value equation. "... others have to follow because eventually, these value-added services are those many only."

Another question is the state of individual platforms now that JioFiber offers 10-plus apps with certain packs (starts at Rs 999 per month), and negates the need to pay for individual subscriptions. Says Uday Sodhi, founding partner, Kurate Digital Consulting (former business head, SonyLIV) in an earlier story, "It’s not really an aggregator as such, it’s only simplifying the payment process... You have to open each app individually, so it’s organic. It’s just that they’ve been bundled together as one payment option."

Uday Sodhi
Uday Sodhi

Sodhi goes on to say that the fibre service provider will enable the SVOD platforms to reach more viewers. JioFiber is not necessarily going to reach every home, but it is helping the SVOD services reach more users, in that sense.

This move by Jio might usher in the next big wave of content consumption. Given that it’s bringing in so many platforms into one service, it’s very unlike TV. While watching TV, you can only browse for fixed programming because TV specialises in ‘appointment viewing’. VOD platforms rely on their content bank – and amidst it, they need to provide for good search tools to make this content discoverable.

We found Sodhi's point on content consumption interesting because Reliance doesn't just source content from various sources to a single access point, but is also in the business of content creation. It holds a majority stake in Network18, a leading media conglomerate whose portfolio includes Colors, MTV India, VH1 India, and CNBC TV18. Reliance also has small stakes in Eros International (5 per cent) and Balaji Telefilms (25 per cent).

"It has spread itself out with every indication that it will have a bigger role in content, and it will converge all of it (using JioFiber)," says Razdan.

A bit too much?

There's a line at the start of the ad where the woman says, "Entertainment ke 50,000 options hai aur humare paas sirf ek Sunday..." Are we seeing weariness creep in, thanks to the easy access to content on OTT?

Says Razdan, "It is actually wooing first-time entrants with a bouquet of OTT apps... For them, the excitement of the bundling, and the economy of the bundling, is much greater than the fatigue."

The fiber issue

Despite all its benefits, to lay down a fiber network is easier said than done. Mahesh Uppal, a telecom expert, and owner, ComFirst, a telecom consulting firm, spoke about JioFiber's scale and impact. He says it's a very good and ambitious idea, and India certainly needs a huge amount of fiber. Jio has the depth of pocket as well as technical and other resources to do that.

Mahesh Uppal
Mahesh Uppal

But, "fiber is not an easy business for anybody, including Jio. And we've seen Jio's own plans, when it comes to fibre, have not been as successful as its rollout of 4G. Jio's rollout of fiber has been far slower than hoped."

Uppal says it's a business that needs a very high level of local coordination with a whole range of agencies (municipalities, RWAs, state and central government agencies). In most cases, fiber has to be dug inside the ground, and you can't just dig anywhere without Rights of Way (RoW) authorisation.

Regarding local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) reigning supreme in their respective regions, Uppal says, "Wherever people have local relationships, they do better. If you don't, and your competitors do, then it can affect your rollout."

Will people subscribe?

JioFiber doesn't come cheap. The plans that include the OTT apps start at Rs 999 per month, which isn't exactly affordable for many families. Uppal says that most (average) households don't spend Rs 1,000 per month, but it's seeking to address a particular segment of the market. There are a large number of people, with means, who like JioFiber's speed, as well as its bundled OTT content...

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