Jul 10, 2008

Business - Paid mobile entertainment losing steam

Aminah Sheikh & Shivani Shinde Business Standard Mumbai, July 10, 2008
Good broadband connectivity and a robust business model can put the service back on track.Content providers who, till a couple of months back, were bullish on making money from mobile entertainment are now going slow with their expansion plans.Consider this. Leading broadcaster Star India's mobile interactive division, Star Mobile Entertainment — which made some serious headway in the space by launching a service whereby mobile users could opt to view soaps from across Star India's network -— recently reviewed its operational strategy.When the initiative was launched last year, users were charged Rs 30 per month for unlimited usage after a one-month free trial. This was in additional to the SMS and data transaction cost (Rs 10 for 1MB of data). However, having realised that the Indian market is not very conducive for such services, Star now offers this service for free.Viren Popli, senior vice-president, Star Mobile Entertainment, says: "Unless the delivery capabilities are not enhanced, there is no business model in place. Therefore, our plans on launching mobile-specific serials and so on have also been put on hold for sometime."Star is not the only player to have taken a step back. Hungama Mobile, too, which had launched Dus Kahaniya (10 short films) last year for the mobile platform, had a similar experience.Neeraj Roy, managing director, Hungama Mobile, explains: "We have observed that users are unwilling to pay for such content. Hence, it is not commercially viable to create such content in the current scenario."Industry players, however, concur that even though the concept of short films or soaps for the mobile platform does not make commercial sense, it is an important step forward for content providers."Consumption patterns are changing and short form content is on a rise. But people do not want to pay for such content. It will take at least 2-3 years for users to get comfortable with the concept. Also, the infrastructure has to support the service," said a media analyst.Ishwar Jha, CEO, Digital Media Convergance, a part of ESSEL Group (promoter of Zee TV) feels that one of the prime reasons for these services not catching on is the absence of infrastructure.He adds: "For videos to be popular we would need 3G technology, for which the government is yet to solve the spectrum issue. Moreover, there is no clear revenue model, hence pricing is still a contentious issue. Besides mobile users have not been taken on to mobile TV."Zee currently provides its mobile TV services to BSNL users in North India and a beta version is being run in Mumbai. Currently, Digital Media Convergance provides mobisoaps of select TV episodes, travelogs, recipes, and movie clips.