We missed this earlier: ALTBalaji, the digital content application from Balaji Telefilms is offering its digital content portfolio on the Airtel’s Airtel TV app. The shows on offer include “Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat, Haq, One Upon a Time in Mumbai and Lootera”. Airtel now claims to offer content from over 350+ live TV channels, over 10,00 movies and shows. The Airtel TV app is free for Airtel Postpaid and prepaid customers till June 2018. A few points to note:
1. Not the first such deal, but noteworthy: This content distribution deal is interesting because it’s an instance of Balaji actually licensing its content to a third-party, instead of selling its own bundle (the ALT Balaji app) to drive subscription. This isn’t the first such deal: the first was with Reliance Jio, in January 2018, for Jio Cinema (movies) and Jio TV (shows). That deal was understandable: Reliance Jio’s parent owns 26% in ALT Balaji’s parent company, Balaji Telefilms; that there was going to be content shared by ALT Balaji with Jio was a given. But the Airtel deal is interesting because Jio competes Airtel. It’s a bit surprising that Jio actually let this deal happen.
2. A change of approach: One of the questions we would have asked Ekta Kapoor (we had requested an interview when the service launched) was the initial decision to not syndicate content when there was great demand from platforms for original content. Balaji, as we pointed out subsequently, was trying to build a niche platform with original content for itself, and it was this exclusivity which was driving subscriptions. This was bold, for a producer. While most others were willing to create content for syndication for platforms/aggregators, Balaji had chosen to compete with them. Now the content is no longer exclusive our questions are different: what led to this change in approach? What kind of an impact is this going to have on subscription revenues for ALTBalaji? Will it be open to inking similar deals with the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime? Doesn’t it see telecom operators as competition, and not partners?
The challenge, for Balaji, really, is increasing consumption. It doesn’t have the ocean of content that Netflix does. What’s not clear from the press releases is whether the content that has been given to the telecom operators is the entire catalog of original content, or just content which was released last year. One way of still driving subscription for ALTBalaji would be to syndicate only old content.
3. Free for now and revenue later? Airtel TV is free for now, but, as the PR states, “till June 2018”. What’s not clear here is whether Balaji negotiated a payment for views/syndication till June 2018, or whether they get paid nothing till then and only when the platform starts making money. Remember that Apple had to buckle and pay artists during its 3 month trial period for Apple Music, following Taylor Swift’s push-back. Here’s an archived version of Taylor Swift’s letter.
4. Umm… why isn’t Airtel TV called Wynk TV? Or Wynk Music called Airtel Music? Or why are Airtel and Jio even in the content business? Or why haven’t they launched their own app stores? Never mind…