As we reported earlier, Reliance Entertainment’s video content service BigFlix has officially launched its subscription based online Movie on Demand service-BigFlixPlus. The service will offer an all-you-can-eat film subscription at Rs 249 per month, with seamless expericnce across all devices and platforms including through its website and native applications for iOS and Android phones and tablets, and connected TVs. The company claims to offer close to 500 titles in its catalogue. The announcement was expected after the company decided to shut down its physical distribution business in November 2011 to move to an online Video on Demand platform.

BigFlix already has a tie-up with Bharti Airtel for streaming movies and was offering some selected movie titles for free on its website and on apps. It had also removed some of those titles to make them available to users who opt for a paid subscription.

Move From Physical To Online

Reliance Entertainment Digital COO Manish Agarwal informs MediaNama that the move to a completely online service was a tough decision and although the company would lose out on customers who do not have internet access, the model offers a better and more clearer path to profitability. the company is initially targeting executives on the move who use high speed dongles, and users who have 1 Mbps+ unlimited broadband connections, and does not expect the service to hit mass adoption till the next 18-24 months.

BigFlix will offer limited payment options for the service – Credit Cards and Debit Cards, and will not offer Cash on Delivery or Net Banking. The company plans to majorly market the service online and through in-app ads, but it will also use Out of Home, English TV channels, and multiplex campaigns to promote the service.

DRM Protected Movie Downloads

Since the present bandwidth condition in the country do not guarantee a buffer-free streaming experience, BigFlix will allow subscribers to download movies on their PCs, after installing a desktop client. However, the company will use Microsoft’s DRM to protect the files, and they will be automatically removed after three days. Moreover, users will not be able to transfer downloaded files to portable drives or mobile devices, though they can download the file separately on more than one device. Agarwal further informs that the company is working on DRM protection for mobile devices, which will be made available in another two months time.

Our Take

We were able to access the service through a promo code given to us by BigFlix for the purpose of this story. Some of the move titles available at the time of writing this post include Dabangg, Udaan, Soundtrack, Tees Maar Khan and others, while Force, Singham, Bodyguard, Pyaar Ka Punchnama are slated for future release. Mind you, all of these movies have already been aired on National television.

– No HD? : The movie starts streaming after clicking on its title with 360p as the default resolution. 480p is the maximum resolution that the service offers on the web. However, according to Agarwal the company’s back-end allows it to offer higher resolutions and its Smart TV app will offer 720p in the future, in addition to some selected titles on the web which will be offered in higher resolution. He feels that keeping in mind the available bandwidth and FUP caps, the company felt that the default 480p resolution was optimum. The web player is based on Adobe Flash and comes with controls for enabling captions, checking out related titles, movie info and playback controls. Full screen view is also available. In our opinion, a paid subscription VoD service must offer HD content, and it should be left to the user to decide if he wants to switch to a lower resolution.

– Other features: The service claims that if a user leaves the movie in the middle, and wants to watch it later, he can do so since BigFlix records his viewing history and will allow him to resume the movie from the same point. However, during our use, we found that the service did not register our viewing history, although there was a list of recently browsed titles, but clicking on them redirected to the home page. Also, we were not able to find controls for adding movies to the Playlist.

We feel that the strong point of the service is its ubiquitous approach when it comes to devices, however, we’re still skeptical whether people will pay for a VoD service in India, specially when movies are telecasted on national TV within weeks of their release. It will also have to compete with VoD services offered by DTH providers and free content available legally on YouTube and Yahoo’s online streaming services and not so legally elsewhere.

We’d also like to see fresher content and Hollywood movies on BigFlixPlus, in addition to International concerts and music videos. According to the company, the service will start offering Hollywood content in the coming summer. It’s also in talks with ISPs for bundling free data transfer with the service, since FUP (Fair Usage Policy) caps hamper the growth prospects of any kind of video streaming service in India.

Corrigendum: An earlier version of this post incorrectly mentioned Manish Agarwal’s designation as COO, BigFlix. We have updated it to correct the error.