Radhakrishnan Ramachandran, Founder & CEO of iStream.com, a Bangalore-based start-up providing online video services, believes that though YouTube shares the majority market share in video streaming in India, there is enough space for players like him.
“If you look at any of the other markets you will find niche players who have managed to create a market for themselves. For instance, Hulu in the US, Youku in China and others. Our effort in India is to become a premium video destination,” said Ramachandran. iStream.com raised $5 million in 2011 from global private equity fund SAIF Partners. It was SAIF’s first investment in the online video space.
iStream.com, that went live with its video offering a year agoback has 85 partners so far and has over a 200,000 clips of news bulletins, TV shows & movies in five Indian languages from over 80 channels. It also streams 26 news channels – in English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam – live 24/7.
Ramachandran adds that the portal would cross six million unique users for the month of December. “The growth has been much more than what we expected. We expect to cross the 10 million unique user mark by March 2013,” he added. For iStream the focus is on the video quality, and packaging of the content. At present the company is focusing on five segments--news, TV, movies and sports.
iStream started its journey five years back as a content distribution partner for platforms like Youtube, MSN India among others. Ramachandran shares that by 2010, iStream had become the largest content partner for YouTube. The founder then realised that it was time to create a company that did much more. Towards late 2011, iStream did a soft-launch of its services and in February 2012 started its operation full-fledged.
Recently, iStream.com signed a multi-year licensing deal with IndiaCast, a joint venture between TV18 and Viacom18. The deal will give iStream.com access to IndiaCast’s library of content from a bouquet of the network’s 20 channels for its streaming and video on demand services online and Internet-enabled devices including smart phones and tablets.
“This is one of the most important deals we have signed so far. IndiaCast brings to the table, some of the most-watched TV networks in the country, giving us access to one of the largest libraries of news, entertainment and regional content,” says Ramachandran. While he did not disclose the size of the deal, he did add that it was a revenue sharing contract.
iStream.com will have dedicated landing pages for each of these channels and will showcase some of Indian Television’s biggest reality shows like Big Boss and India’s Got Talent, fiction shows like Balika Vadhu & Uttaran, youth shows like MTV Roadies and Splitsvilla.
It seems Ramachandran’s bet on creating a premium video portal so far is going right. “We garnered over 3 million views for the Europa 2012 matches live streaming. Our strategy in India will be to partner with sports body for exclusive tie-ups. Though we have done live-streaming for cricket we are also in talks for sports like badminton series for tie-up. We expect that 10 per cent of content on our website will be exclusive sports content,” he added.
In the movies category the website has a library of 3,000 titles primarliy in the Malyalam and Telugu languages. But in the next six months the company intends to expand this to 5,000 titles in atleast 8-9 langugaes. “We have taken an early bet on regional languages. In some of the southern languages consumption of online content is very high,” he added.
Ramachandran believes that Indian on-line video market is not yet ready for a subscription model. Hence the focus of iStream will also be advertisements. “In the past three months we have had brands like HP, GE, Intel and other partnering with us,” said he.
What makes iStream different from other such offerings in the market, according to Ramachandran is the focus. “We have a 50 member digital studio team. We have built our own platform and products and are continuously investing in it. Unlike for others who have digital as a part of their strategy, for us it is only about digital content. For smaller regional player who do not have the people bandwidth we can step in and digitise content both in long and short format,” explains Ramachandran.
iStream has competition not only from YouTube but from players like BoxTV by Times Internet, Zee's Ditto TV and even Yahoo!'s online videos.