First there were no wars. Just the fact that there was a device that allowed a phone call on the move was enough for people to buy a mobile phone in millions. Then came the ‘feature war’ where sending an SMS, having ten songs before your phone memory filled up and watching a blurry video on a postage stamp-sized screen drove people into a frenzy.
Then came the ‘split war’ where if you wanted a phone, you bought a Nokia (it could actually take a picture) and if you wanted a business phone, you bought a BlackBer
ry (it could actually download your emails). Smartphones sparked off an ‘app war,’ hardware innovation lead to a
‘spec war’ and competition led to a ‘price war.’ Ladies and gentlemen, all those wars are over. Brace up for the biggest war ever. The ‘content war’!
There are many ways to define this war. Let’s go for the simplest one. In the near future, you will neither buy a phone based on specs (phones are getting commoditised at an alarming pace), nor price (most companies will get out of the price war very soon as it’s killing them all). You’ll buy a phone based on the content it comes with. There’s a real logic behind it.
Imagine you’re at a phone store, you’ve zeroed in on the last three phones, all of them have almost the same features, cost almost the same, look pretty much the same! What’s going to swing your vote? Obviously, the content. It’s estimated that all of us are consuming more content on the move, mainly on a large-screen phone. Video consumption is king here, people are spending more time on it than on social media, and it’s only going to explode further.
Video content consumption on a device comes in many different flavours – YouTube-like videos, Netflix-like subscription, aggregated content from media houses such as Voot (Viacom 18) and Hotstar (Star) and of course video torrents (obviously illegal and a firm favourite). Right now the magic is in all things free. And that’s where smartphone brands are about to indulge in battle.
Prepping the war
It started off with Xiaomi investing in Hungama (apparently a big investment, and a big announcement of how this investment will manifest in Xiaomi phones is around the corner). Up next was the announcement by LeEco that they would have 2,000 movie titles, 100 live TV channels and 2.5 million songs free on their phones from here on. This is a big game changer and one that may redefine how we actually make a buying decision.
LeEco is well-placed to do this as content is the DNA of the company and it’s one of the biggest players in content in China. In India, Eros Now, Hungama and YuppTV are its content partners. If LeEco has done it and Xiaomi’s about to do it, can others be far behind? Free movies, exclusive libraries, and TV shows that never made it to Indian shores are all packed up for free, inside the little smartphone box that you just bought.
Magar yeh India hai
As of now each of these services stream the content onto your phone. That means you need a kickass data connection and one that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. No such service exists in India. Almost all of them are banking on the mythical 4G war that may bring data prices down to the lowest in the world.
That may or may not happen as the Airtels and Vodafones have some form of 4G, but at prices that make video streaming a luxury only for those loaded with money and stupidity. Reliance 4G is supposedly the catalyst that will start the price war, but they seem to change their launch date every month. Most people will use all this free streaming on WiFi networks – thus defeating the very idea of content consumption on the move.
There could be interesting strategies at play to tide us over and corner this market till 4G is dirt cheap. A brand could bundle a 64GB sampler of movies, TV shows and content on a MicroSD card in the box. This content could rotate with two movies and two new TV shows getting updated every week on WiFi (on its own at night) and thus you would always have new content on your phone to play anywhere without a data connection.
This could be a huge trigger for small towns and for those who have never used a data connection on their smartphones. Offline free video content with single-burst downloads, based on your requirements, could be the next big thing. Plus, companies who bundle a free Netflix connection and introduce offline Netflix.
LeEco has fired the first salvo into the field. Eventually all the brands will scramble and fire too. The good part: while this war will have many casualties in the brand battleground, the customer wins every single time. Start noting down names of all the movies and TV shows you’ve been dying to watch. They’ll be playing on a smartphone screen near you very soon. For free!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, May 15, 2016
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