If you travelled by bus, train or even air last year you probably saw people streaming or watching downloaded videos on their mobile devices. With India's Internet population overtaking the US', content consumption has become a lucrative proposition in the country. As a customer or a consumer, which online streaming service would you pay to get the best viewing experience? Here is a guide.
This is the newest entrant in India's streaming wars but by no means is it a small player. Amazon Prime video service is available in many countries. Launched in December 2016, this is probably the cheapest service available in India, at just ₹500 per year.
"We have the best and the widest content library to offer," Tim Leslie, VP of Amazon Digital Video, told HuffPost India. "We are catering to many languages and many types of shows. We are pretty sure that Indian consumers will enjoy the experience."
Amazon has a bunch of original shows lined up for India, including a political satire by the hugely popular comedy group, AIB. The company has announced 9 Indian original shows featuring heavyweight producers and directors such as Anurag Kashyap, with much more to come. It has also imported its own shows such as Man In The High Castle and The Grand Tour, along with popular series such as Mr.Robot and The BI.
To cater to the Indian audience, Amazon has tied up with big ticket studios such as Dharma Productions and Vishesh Films to bring movies such as Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Sultan. India's growing anime fan-base will be happy to see shows such as Shinchan on the list which is favourite with children.
The service has some limitations as well. You can only stream on three devices simultaneously from one account, and the downloads will stay on the device for only 48 hours. You will be able to download 15-20 videos depending on your device's memory capacity. Also, there is no support available for Apple TV or Google's Chromecast streaming.
This big Indian player, owned by the Star network, has been around for almost two years. Primarily started as a free service to provide TV shows on mobile from the Star channels, it has grown into one of the biggest players in the field in India. While you can see free shows, movies, and delayed sports on the service, the premium service offers more.
Hotstar claims that it offers over 100,000 hours of content and notches 50 million active users per month. Hotstar offers HBO shows such as Game Of Thrones, Veep and Silicon Valley; some shows from Fox Network; and live sports from Star networks without delay in the ₹199 per month premium service. The live sports include major cricket, football, tennis, kabaddi, badminton tournaments and more.
Speaking with HuffPost India, Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan sounded confident of gaining the top overall position despite increasing competition.
"We have many unique things that go well for us," he said. "Apart from the great content library, we started in India so we have a better understanding of the market. Stats show that Hotstar app is where people spend the most time in India. And we are working on great deals to bring amazing content to the users."
While Hotstar has over 145 million downloads and has won the Apple TV app of the year award, the overall experience that the service offers is sub-par. Sports stream often freezes due to technical reasons and the latest matches don't show up in the sports tab. NDTV Gadgets also reported facing several issues while streaming sports on Hotstar.
The interface needs to improve by leaps and bounds. The app and the website also feel a bit out of date. To poach users from Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hotstar will have to produce original shows which are non-existent at the moment. In addition, there is hardly any personalisation in the service, something that Netflix has mastered.
Hotstar's movie catalogue also needs to be updated. If these issues are not addressed, many premium users are likely to slip away soon.
It has been almost a year since the streaming bigwig launched in India. On 6 January 2016, Netflix announced that it was coming to India and several other countries. This announcement got many people excited as Netflix offers a wide range of original and classic TV shows along with documentaries and stand-up comedy routines.
There is a reason why "Netflix and chill" was a term last year because of popular shows such as House of Cards, Narcos, and BoJack Horseman. The tech behind the company's personal recommendation engine with tags is also much talked about.
Netflix has been known for its technological prowess. The service is available on almost every platform. The streaming rates are from 0.5 megabits per second as a minimum requirement to 25 megabits per second for 4K streaming. Netflix has something called adaptive streaming as well. For shows such as Rick and Morty which are not graphic intensive, the bit rate goes down even for the HD quality.
The company is planning to launch over 1,000 hours of original content worldwide with an Indian original called Sacred Games based on a book by Vikram Chandra. Last year, the company did bring a lot of regional movies such as Court, Sairat and Bey Yaar to the platform. It even tied up with Red Chillis Entertainment to stream Shah Rukh Khan movies.
The biggest challenge for Netflix has been convincing the customer to pay the premium price of ₹450 per month for a 720p streaming and ₹650 for HD streaming. Apart from that, there has been a huge outcry about the Indian library being very limited as compared to the US. Netflix says that it has doubled the catalogue of content in the past year and it is working on licensing deals to bring more shows to India.
There are smaller streaming players in India as well which mainly offer Bollywood content and shows. Hungama is one of the leading services for music and it has a video streaming service called Hungama Play as well. While its monthly plan costs ₹150, it offers bite-sized daily and weekly plans too.
Hungama has a library of 8,000 movies, 200 odd TV shows and 60 children oriented shows. And, it has a host of movies from Hollywood and shows like Top Gear as well. But the content library besides the Bollywood offerings is not that impressive.
Another competitor, Spuul, has 10,000 hours of movie content focusing mainly on Hindi movies and some regional offerings. The premium service it offers costs ₹150. Eros Now and Voot are two other streaming services in the race to grab the Indian viewer's eyeballs.
On a related note, after telecom and broadband service provider Reliance Jio's entry in the streaming market, competitors Vodafone and Airtel have also started offering free content. A content war has broken out between the telecom operators. The consumer is going to benefit from the competition for sure. While we are still far ways from the chord cutting days of cable operator, there is a big tussle going on to win over your bandwidth.