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iStream.com plays the video game

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital
Published : December 14, 2012
iStream today signed a deal with IndiaCast, a joint venture between TV18 and Viacom18 , which gives the online player access to content from the network's 20 channels for its streaming and video-on-demand services.

How big will online video get? The media business got an inkling of the ambition of online players with today's deal between iStream and IndiaCast. The fact that TV companies are willing to share all their content with an online startup aggregator though they have websites of their own just proves that they are hedging their bets every which way.

iStream was launched in 2007 as a video content aggregation service tying up with existing digital platforms such as MSN India and DailyMotion, among others. In 2010 iStream teamed up with YouTube in as a content partner and claims to have become YouTube's largest content partner in India, with over a billion video views within a year.

The Bengaluru-based company launched its own video platform, iStream.com, late last year to provide premium video content - that is, professionally produced content as opposed to that generated by users. Post a soft-launch, it began full-fledged operations in 2012 and started monetising its product only a few months back.

It is a serious player in that SAIF Capital - best known for its investment in MakeMyTrip and Just Dial - has placed a US $5 million bet on iStream.

Radhakrishnan Ramachandran

Anuj Gandhi

Radhakrishnan Ramachandran, CEO and co-founder (together with Chellappa Dhanukodi), is excited by the IndiaCast deal because it gives his fledgling business access to Colors and MTV, TV18's news channels - CNN IBN, CNBCTV18, CNBC Awaaz, IBN7 and IBN Lokmat, and History18 from A&E and the entire bouquet of regional channels from the ETV Group.

iStream.com will have dedicated landing pages for each of these channels and will showcase programmes such as Bigg Boss, India's Got Talent, Ballika Vadhu, Uttaran, MTV Roadies, Splitsvilla and others.

Anuj Gandhi, group chief executive officer, IndiaCast explains in an official communication why his company went for the deal: "With the digital space becoming more mainstream and evolving every second, it is imperative for us to take our content from television to online and give access to our viewers across platforms."

Among other premium content providers online like the recently launched BoxTV by Times Internet, Zee's Ditto TV and even Yahoo!'s interests in online videos, iStream still finds a lot of latent opportunity in the country irrespective of the omnipresent YouTube.

What differentiates these players from YouTube is their offering of 'premium' content and lack of user-generated content that one largely finds on YouTube. Even when it comes to user-generated content, there is a difference in the way it is perceived in the West and in India. In the West, it stands for users uploading videos they have shot themselves; in India it consists of ripped-off, pirated content uploaded by viewers.

"India is not yet ready for subscription," thinks Ramachandran. He says iStream depends on advertising, much like other online players, while providing content free-of-cost to viewers.

iStream has brands such as GE, Intel, Sony, Renault, HP and Bacardi, among others, advertising on its platform and the inventory is sold directly by its sales team (as opposed to ad networks); the primary inventory being video ads (pre- and mid-rolls).

While video-on-demand is the play, iStream is also betting big on live streaming, particularly of sporting events. It got the rights to stream events such as Euro 2012, the US Open and the recent India-Sri Lanka series and sees it as a way of building a following online.

And while most of the content deals are on a revenue sharing model, such as the current one with IndiaCast, iStream has to pay a flat license fee for premium sporting events.

Ramachandran is also gung-ho about mobile, stating that 20 per cent of iStream's views come from the mobile devices. The company launched its mobile apps around three months back.

iStream receives a lot of visitors from Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi (85 per cent of the audience is from India). It is focusing on English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam content for now and in the next 3-4 months will also look at Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati. The focus is currently on news, television content, movies and sports as categories for now.

Ramachandran claims that based on Google Analytics, iStream expects to close December with five million unique users and around 25 million page views. With funding in place, iStream expects to grow aggressively now. It promotes itself through various online marketing initiatives including social media and search optimisation and is also working out tie-ups with mobile manufacturers.

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