Bharti Airtel has entered the digital media distribution business, establishing what they’re calling a “digital media exchange”. The exchange will enable the transference of digital content from media houses, producers and distributors to multiple platforms and locations, including Live Media (digital signages), mobile, Internet and other platforms. Distribution will also get a boost if Airtel succeeds in acquiring 3G and WiMax spectrum.

Speaking at the launch, Airtel CEO (India & South Asia) Sanjay Kapoor said that this is a long term play, and company expects that in about 4-5 year time, this will be anywhere between Rs. 300-400 crores business.

“This is a large media exchange, agnostic to which screen, and which part of the screen you’re talking about,” he said, adding that  “We’re not trying to control here. We’re the enablers, the platform. The timing of the content, and what is going to be sent to each screen is going to be controlled by the producer. Anyone can create content and piggyback on the exchange,” he said.

To Start With B2B, Digital Cinema

Airtel is going to begin with a B2B focus, and the low hanging fruit in this space is evidently the B2B digital cinema distribution which has been attempted previously, but clearly not at this scale. “There are more than 16,000 cinema screens operating in India, and they’ve being digitized. Serving content digitally is a great opportunity – starting from B2B and then moving to B2C,” Rajan Swaroop, Executive Director (Enterprise Services) for Airtel said.

Swaroop said that they see the B2C space more opening up in the 12-18 months. “How do we reach a film in 15 languages across 2000-5000 theatres? With a platform like this, we’re in a position to get the processing and convert to a regional format in no time, and reach these theaters almost instantly. The potential for the content owners becomes multi-fold.”

As “partners” Airtel is targeting publishers, processors, animation companies, gaming companies, advertising and media houses.

Viability? Previous Attempts At Digital Cinema Distribution Struggled

However, the digital cinema distribution business hasn’t exactly flourished in India over the past two years: Pyramid Saimira has shuttered their digital cinema distribution business. UFO Moviez and Adlabs currently have digital cinema distribution businesses. Swaroop said that they will partner with the likes of UFO Moviez and Adlabs. Where Airtel has an advantage is that while the other companies lease bandwidth for distribution, Airtel actually owns it. Airtel is also also looking to leverage their global pipes for international distribution.

On the viability of the business model, Kapoor said that the whole business case is in “juicing our existing assets. For us, it’s incremental investment. The reach that we have cannot be paralleled by local companies; we’re uniquely poised.”

In this context, MediaNama readers might remember that just last month, Airtel had announced an agreement with Limelight Networks for content delivery network, which will allow the company to efficiently leverage content delivery in India and internationally.

Related:

— Bharti Airtel Partners With Limelight Networks For CDN Services
— Pyramid Saimira Winds Up Film Distribution In India; Defers Reel Acquisition
Adlabs Gets Into The Digital Cinema Business
— Bharti Airtel Partners With Limelight Networks For CDN Services