As others queue up on the online video platform that YouTube was monopolising, brands wake up to the potential of this medium.

Think online video and where do you go first thing? YouTube?

Well, YouTube is certainly the king of this platform – but others are now streaming onto this track too.

“YouTube is an ecosystem of its own with four billion views a month and 50 million unique users. But the monopoly can by all means be broken provided the industry learns to monetise and develop original content for the Web and mobile,” says Sameer Pitalwalla, Director, Video & Celebrity, Disney UTV. The digital team of Disney UTV hosts various channels on YouTube.

In the West, with more and more people beginning to ditch their TV to view videos and live content online, this is one space that is hotting up. Leading the action are players who allow people to not just watch TV but chat about it or join the action. Social TV is the name of the game.

Though there is a long way to go in India, the online video platform scene is certainly now getting a crowd of players. Many of them have differentiated offerings.

Not just Video

Veoh, for instance, differentiates itself from other video content sites by providing Internet television and social features such as video, voice and text chat. Lazycounty.com positions itself as a digital entertainment platform, offering social networking, online communication and entertainment which encompasses a TV, radio and a games station.

Bangalore based start-up iStream.com is yet another online video site which acquires and uploads content directly from TV channels and movie studios. Add to the list The Pirate Bay, Vimeo, DailyMotion.com, BitSnoop.Com and the numbers say it all.

“We launched iStream.com only in December last year. In six months time we have grown to 1 million unique users per month, translating to 4 million video views per month,” says Radhakrishnan Ramachandran, Founder & CEO, iStream.com.

By December iStream is targeting 5 million unique users and 20 million video views per month, he says.

The market for online videos is undeniably in the fast lane now. India, for instance, saw a growth of 21 per cent in unique viewers across video sites from 2010 to 2011. Not only are the number of users increasing on video sites, they are spending more time watching videos online.

A KPMG report puts the number at 7.6 hours view time per user per month in India in 2011 as compared to 4.8 hours per viewer per month in 2010.

iStream.com has uploaded close to 100,000 videos since launch. “In May, we streamed over 250,000 hours of video, growing by over three times compared to April. An average users watches over 20 minutes of our content every month, which is comparable with the likes of Hulu in the US,” adds Ramachandran.

Lazycounty.com offers a unique application in cyberspace called ‘Hear Me Out', where users can create their own radio station, uploading audio tracks of their choice, register for a time slot to broadcast and even earn out of the portal's advertising revenue model.

“So far we've achieved an over 3,000 subscriber base in the couple of weeks of inception,” says Ankur Sachdeva, CEO. He says the site aims to achieve 22 million subscribers by the end of the current fiscal.

Brands cash in

Smart brands that have figured out which way the customer is headed are already getting on to the online video platform.

If Pepsico in the US is aggressively getting on to the social TV platform, sponsoring shows such as X Factor and creating conversations around it, then Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has been quick to cash in here. HUL was the exclusive sponsor for Dabangg's release on YouTube.

When Dabangg premiered on YouTube, channel views crossed the 1 million mark within one week. HUL took up exclusive sponsorship for the movie channel and ran a month-long campaign for a hair care product across the platform.

Television channels are not too far behind either with Star launching a Star Player application to showcase content from its channels.

A Cisco VNI report says Internet video traffic will be 67 per cent of all consumer Internet traffic in 2016, up from 30 per cent in 2011. “105 billion minutes of video content will cross the Internet each month in 2016, up from 8 billion in 2011 and video will exceed half of India's consumer Internet traffic by year-end 2014,” the report reveals.

Understandably the market is raising its own bar.

“Users have started to expect a very high level of service. In the past, unreliable streams, poor video quality and very low level of discoverability were the norm. Today's players in the market are raising the bar on user experience very rapidly,” says Ramachandran.

Compared to maturing international markets, the Indian market still has significant potential to grow. In the US, viewers spent 21 hours per viewer per month watching videos online and in Germany and the UK viewers spent about 20 hours per user per month and 17 hours per user per month respectively.

The cable prices are higher in mature markets such as the US and UK, and hence streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu offer an economical alternative to watch content.

With digitisation kicking in in India, and smart phones driving the bus, one assumes that online videos will soon conquer a turf of their own.

(This article was published on June 20, 2012)
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