gurtejsandhu1Star India recently announced more channels were being added onto partner Apalya’s mobile TV application and that it was launching it’s own Mobile TV application soon. In this two part interview with Medianama, Gurtej Sandhu, SVP (Digital & IT), STAR India talks about a slew of launches planned including a Facebook widget and a lighter version for Orkut, a desktop application and targeting the typical Star TV viewer in India – a housewife – through the mobile and more.

What are Star India’s plans for social networks?

We are currently testing a widget for Facebook – the open social application will allow users to share videos of shows. The first phase is live right now on Facebook, and we are now working on the second phase.

Company-provided screenshots of the second version are available here and here.

Why is there a second version?

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The reason we are doing the second version is advertising. The commercial opportunity is significant what it basically allows us social advertising on our base of content.

It captures advertising dollars that would normally go to social media marketing to come through us.

(ED: Will the launch of this widget boost the channel’s popularity on Facebook? Star’s Facebook page (community) has an appallingly low 36 fans, while NDTV’s Tubaah as 204 fans. You can also read our take on challenges Tubaah faces on Medianama)

What about Orkut?

For Orkut, we are launching Star Player Light – it will maintain resolution even for lower bandwidth access. Of the two things that vary, one is size of the player, so the video works on narrowband. On Facebook there tend to be users with more broadband access, whereas on Orkut they have less bandwidth access; this has been associated with numbers freely available. Orkut works on narrowband as well as broadband.

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The second is, we are allowing people to upload their own Star videos as well. So if you have an archive available, you can put it up. Right now we cut the video and now we are allowing users to upload their Star content, wherever they get it from. Maybe instead of an entire episode they will have a section. They may be passionate about Dr Rahul Garewal (played by actor Mayank Anand) from Dil Mil Gaya so they’ve cut and edited  the video. They can share that video through Star Player to their communities and friends. That’s the principle behind Star Player Light.

Are you allowing user generated content?

It’s still Star content, and if somebody wants to put that up themselves, we will allow them to do what we are doing. It’s not outsourcing, but what I would say is that it is about people who are passionate about consuming content. They can consume our videos, edit it to whatever they want it to be. They will need to register to do this, and sign off to terms and conditions that will say this is Star content. If they have a blog around Nach Baliye for example, we will allow them to embed our official video or their edited video on their blog. So they can put up a better quality piece of content on their blog which will be legal, with no copyright violations. People can highlight if this is correct or incorrect: the community polices itself.

Desktop App

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Star TV Desktop App

How else are you distributing content?

We are also testing a desktop application. The software will be offered at no additional cost for consumers to download onto their computers.

With the online piece, you can watch the whole episode but the editing process is tighter on the content for the desktop. We will look to make entire episodes available but it may not be a viable consumer experience taking spends into consideration.

Will you allow downloads of episodes?

No, the challenge with downloading episodes is we cant put in adverts – we use dynamic advertising even on old content. Download is more tied into the subscription model and not the advertising model. It’s something we may look into later but not at this stage.

Will there be a light version for desktop, for dial up users?

The desktop version is tuned for low bandwidth. It’s a smaller screen.

How will you be distributing it online?

You can download the app from websites. We will also run a marketing campaign that will enable users to click and download it. We are looking for pockets of passions, where people consume, blogs and will target them. We will also have TV ads.

Mobile

What is your target market?

In India, we have a sizeable amount of people who will never be on a laptop or Internet in the next 10-15 years but they have a phone. If we take  Star Plus, its natural viewer is the Indian housewife market watching mostly our soaps. Do we see them moving online? Not in the next 3-4 years. But they can sit with the phone in their hands, it’s a natural place to put our content as well.

You are partnering with Apalya for their app, plus you are developing your own app. Why this dichotomy?

Partly why mobile is different from online piece is that it is an evolving market. There are 2 basic fundamentals to this – one is to pursue operators and partner with them, which the likes of Apalya already have. So we are riding on top of the platform but are also going through the basement. To evolve quickly, it made sense. From a marketing perspective, Apalya will do marketing for us. It’s a fairly good symbiotic relationship.

And how will the Star app be different from Apalya’s? Will it be a subscription model?

We are still trying to find the balance on pricing. The core is we want multiple consumers, price it relatively aggressively and also have an advertising model associated with it. This means we can drive down consumer cost. Ideally, we would like it to be as free as possible and funded through advertising.

We still need to have discussions with operators to find the optimum pricing. The challenge on the mobile is that you have to go through the operators – that’s not an easy process, it takes time.

The current Mobile TV apps have quite poor quality of transmission.

If the world has taught us anything about technology, it is that it will improve. Bandwidth will improve, 3g will arrive. User experience and quality of content, original content, will be core. In the mobile medium, it is still early days; we are building for the future.

How about the past  – what happened to GetPlus?

It was a couple of years ago, we have learnt some lessons from that. Part of the reason we did it was to effectively create a position around aggregation and content. As we’ve gone through the cycle of maturity in that world, we have seen the connections to operators, the collections and percentages and numbers.

It was a fantastic product and worked really well, but it didnt naturally fit into Star as an organisation because we were more about aggregation of content across different mediums. One of the things that went wrong was we need to make operator relationships, and not necessarily own all of them and work at that level, because it doesn’t work with the strengths of our company, which is about content. In a sense, GetPlus got caught between 2 pieces and that’s one of the reasons why we changed our strategy about getting our content out there and doing more than aggregating content on media.

WAP Sites

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What are you doing on the WAP side?

StarTV.in‘s mobile Internet site (WAP site) will be launched in a month’s time. We are launching WAP sites for all TV stations.  WAP sites is, for us, a natural extension of the Star Player. It is much more associated with organic growth of the complete TV piece. Our expectation is that online, we are happy to do distribution deals where we are in control of the content and the commercial relationships. On the mobile side, we need to have discussions and applications.

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