INTERVIEW: Eros Digital CEO, Rishika Lulla Singh

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One of India’s biggest VOD platforms with more than 30 million registered users, ErosNow offers movies, TV shows and music from Eros International’s library of 3,000 films and local broadcasters including Sony, Zee, Colors and Pakistan’s Hum TV.

Earlier this year, ErosNow also moved into the production of original content with three shows: Karan Anshuman’s Khel, a dark drama offering an insiders’ perspective on the world of cricket and Indian Premier League; Rohan Sippy’s action thriller The Client, starring Bipasha Basu; and Tamil-language period drama Ponniyin Selvan, based on a novel by Kalki Krishnamurthy.

Rishika Lulla Singh, the London-based CEO of Eros International’s digital division, talks about the platform’s content and pricing strategies and the growth of India’s VOD sector, which is starting to play catch-up with more established digital markets in East Asia.

Q: Why has VOD and video streaming been so slow to take off in India?

A: Internet penetration in India has always been amongst the lowest in the world. However, improving infrastructure and investment, increased awareness and affordable devices have all contributed to phenomenal growth in the Indian digital space. India is among the world’s largest markets for online video consumption as people come to expect flexibility in terms of when they watch their shows, the volume they consume and where. With over 300 million internet users, India is set to surpass the US user base by the end of the year to become the second largest internet market in the world. India is showing all the indications of a market about to take off with 980 million mobile connections, growing smartphone penetration and improving bandwidth.

Q: Is India leaning more towards 4G mobile streaming than fixed line broadband? And when do you expect to have wide 4G coverage in India?

A: India is seeing a rapid rise in smartphone penetration, boasting the fastest growing smartphone market in the world, and it’s expected that video consumption on digital devices will definitely increase in the future. 4G has already successfully been launched by one of the leading service providers with others expected to follow soon. The country is the second largest mobile phone market in the world so the opportunity for 4G services is enormous; it’s just a matter of time.

Q: ErosNow has both ad-supported (i.e. free to the consumer) and subscription models. What is your pricing strategy and why have you adopted this model? 

A: We aim to create high consumer engagement with our robust content offering as well as multi-option pricing. Our goal is to provide a service that is customisable and adaptable to user needs and preferences. We’ve already announced our disruptive pricing strategy for the premium subscription model. The basic tier offers all content without ads for Rs50 [US$0.75] per month, while our second premium tier offers access to all content as well as compelling product features such as high-definition viewing, Dolby sound, multi-language subtitles, portability across devices and importantly our offline download experience, for Rs100 a month [US$1.50].

Q: Which model is currently the strongest in India? And can you see that changing in the future?

A: In India, freemium is currently enjoying the limelight. However, as the OTT space evolves, with ease of access, an increased range of content and apps and consumer needs, consumption and payment habits will continue to improve. We continue to work on growing our premium subscriber base through a gripping proposition with a variety of popular features.

Q: How do streaming windows work in India? Do you ever stream movies that have been released theatrically before their broadcast on satellite TV?

A: We are pursuing a series of game-changing initiatives, one of which is premiering some of our blockbuster films on the ErosNow platform before their satellite premiere. We are doing this with films such as Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Welcome Back, Badlapur, NH10, Calendar Girls and Koch Kock Locha Hai. Digital entertainment networks have begun to be seen as a viable alternative to consuming content on traditional television. With India about to cross one billion mobile users and total internet users estimated to reach 500 million in a few years, this is a perfect time to go all out on digital.

Q: As local content dominates in India, do you think international SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon will flourish in India?

A: If international SVOD services were to enter India, with a primarily English-language content offering, they would likely appeal to a very niche audience, since internet penetration is still minimal in the rural areas. We have a huge library of high-quality Indian language content that is exclusive to ErosNow, along with a growing customer base. With over four decades of creating and producing Indian content for global consumption, our expertise in gauging consumer interests and tastes differentiates us from other players in the market. We will compete on content differentiation, windowing, exclusivity and brand, and build on our first mover advantage.

Q: How much of ErosNow’s audience is based outside India?

A: ErosNow soft launched in 2012, but it was only in July 2015 that we announced the official launch of our marketing campaign in India. At the end of 2014, we had 14 million registered users and by the end of September 2015 that had climbed to more than 30 million, with the South Asian diaspora making up a large proportion of that. We expect to market the platform internationally in 2016, where consumers are more familiar with online content consumption.