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Northern Railways On-Board Entertainment Tender: Seeks TV, E-Commerce, Internet On Trains

Tomorrow is the last day for submitting a tender document to provide for a rather interesting service on the Northern Railways division of the Indian Railways: an entertainment and communications system for 8 Shatabdi trains, covering 41 hour of travel time per day, and potentially catering to 15642 passengers across executive and chair cars, in 88 railway coaches. This is essentially for providing the device and content fixed into seats for passengers to use. Business Standard reports that both Dish TV and Reliance DTH are keen on applying and that Dish TV has even completed a pilot project on the Kalka Shatabdi.

What that report doesn’t mention from the tender, is that the Railways also wants the provisioning of commerce services on the train – especially the provisioning of booking of tickets and hotels. They’re looking to provide travellers with a “package of entertainment, information, networking and communication”, and this includes the Internet. You may download the tender here (you’ll have to register as a vendor first; is free and easy). A few notes we took from the tender document, along with our comments:

1. Why Free? The Railways is looking to provide travellers with a “package of entertainment, information, networking and communication”, and this includes the Internet. However, it insists that the “basic entertainment service will be free of cost, and passengers will only have to pay for add-on services.” Why can’t licensees provide premium pay-per-view content? Or is that being viewed as an add-on service?

2. Screens: The tender mentions that the display has to be “7 inches or suitable size LCD screens”. While DTH firms are bidding, we hope that what gets installed is essentially a touch screen tablet, with more services (and games) than just entertainment. The problem is that if broadcasters or DTH companies bid for it, there might be a tendency to use dumb screens, with the objective of primarily monetizing content through advertising. The contractor will have to bear the cost of the device, and the “Railways is not responsible for missing or stealing or theft or damage to the system and its parts at any time.”

3. Advertising: The licensee will be permitted Commercial Advertisement up to maximum 20% of train running period from placement of rake for departure, and the contractor will have to license content. We found this amusing: while the advertising must comply with the Advertisement code and the normal regulations imposed by central and state governments, including restrictions on advertisement on smoking, gutka and alcohol, the Railways is also not allowing advertisements form “Private Insurance Companies offering policies against Railways accidents”.

That aside, a list of trains and travel times. Keep in mind that delays would probably result in an increase in viewing.

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4. VAS: The licensee will be allowed for ” add-on services” like internet booking of tickets and hotels etc, and the railways is encouraging the provision of “other value added services like Internet, booking of tickets and hotels.”

5. License fees: The licensee will have to pay the Railways a fee for providing TV and commerce on trains. A separate tender needs to be submitted for reach rake, and the reserve price per annum ranges from Rs 13,67,850 to Rs 17,30,750. P.s.: A rake is “a line of wagons coupled together as one unit, used on railways”. We had to look it up. The license fee will be colleced on a half-yearly basis, and can be increased: 10% in 2nd year, 15% in 3rd year, 20% in 4th year and 25% in 5th year. The tender is for five years, extendable to five more years.

6. Headphones: the tricky part of this business appears to be the management of headphones. According to the tender, the “Contractor can employ manpower on board at two staff per train to supply headphone and collect it about 20 minutes before termination of their journey.” There might be an issue if passengers exit the train at different stations.

More in the tender document.

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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