Airtel digital TV, the DTH service arm of telecom operator Bharti Airtel, has launched an 'On Demand TV' feature on its HD and recorder set top boxes (STBs). The new feature will enable customers to download their favourite videos, including movies as well as those on fashion and lifestyle, health and fitness, home and family and devotional, from an on-demand video library. Subscribers will have to connect their STBs to their broadband connections via an Ethernet cable (this is not supported by Wi-Fi).
All existing and new customers of Airtel digital TV HD can subscribe to the service by just dialing 12150 (toll-free). They can also SMS <VDO> to 54325 to receive a call back from the company's customer care. As of now, the service is only available in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore and NCR, but going forward the company will introduce the service in other cities as well.
Airtel digital TV currently offers 375 channels and services, including 17 HD channels and six interactive services. The company claims that it had 8.1 million customers for the service as of March 2013. Apart from the On Demand TV, Airtel digital TV HD is 3D ready and has Dolby Digital Plus enabling TV viewing with Dolby surround sound. The STB also allows customers to record TV programmes by using a recording remote control and connecting an external USB drive to the device.
While the service is also offered on HD set top boxes, the on-demand videos will only be available in Standard Definition (SD) quality. This is because HD videos are of very high quality, which means large sizes and hence will require faster broadband connections. Just to give you a perspective, while the size of an SD quality movie ranges between 500MB and 1.5GB, an HD movie can go over 7GB in size.
Customers can use their own broadband connections (an Airtel connection is not mandatory). However, the connection should be a high-bandwidth one.
Pricing and competition
For new customers, STB with On Demand TV and recording feature together will cost Rs 2,990, while existing customers (those who have STBs with the recording feature) will only have to pay an installation charge of Rs 125 for On demand TV. While customers will not have to pay any subscription charge, they will be charged per video on a-la-carte basis at prices starting at Rs 10. The rented videos will only be valid for 24 hours (from the time of renting) and will have to be downloaded in that time frame.
Direct competitor Tata Sky also has a VoD service that offers between 500 and 1000 movies in a number of genres and languages. It also offers Catch Up TV, which is basically a service that enables Tata Sky subscribers to view a TV show (from channels like Star Plus, Colors, SAB TV, NDTV, SONY Entertainment, Channel V, etc.) after it is broadcast. As of now, is not clear as to how many movies/TV series Airtel will offer to its subscribers.
For movies, Airtel will face competition from a number of players. Late last month, search giant Google had introduced its movie rental and purchase service, Google Play Movies, in India. The service enables its users to rent or purchase movies from the Google Play Store site or through the app on their android devices. Both Hindi and English movies are available, as well as some HD titles. One can rent movies for as little as Rs 50 (users have 30 days to watch the movie after renting and 24 hours to finish it once you start watching) or buy them for a minimum of Rs 180 (for SD) and Rs 490 (for HD).
Apple Inc. also offers movie renting/purchasing via its iTunes Store. The cost of purchasing an SD movie is Rs 290 while the rental will cost you Rs 80. If you opt for the HD version of the same movie, you will be charged Rs 490 for purchasing it and Rs 120 for renting. It may be noted that once a user has rented a movie, he/she will have 30 days to view it after which it will be removed from the user's library.
Other players include Bigflix Pvt Ltd, the digital media arm of the Reliance Group, Times Internet Ltd's BoxTV and Spuul. But these follow the subscription model where users can only opt for monthly or quarterly memberships.
Bigflix offers multiple subscription options. Unlimited movie subscription is available for Rs 249 per month, while the quarterly and six monthly subscription packs cost Rs 599 and Rs 999, respectively, and a seven-day trial pack costs Rs 99. For BoxTV, Indian subscriptions starts at Rs 199 per month while Spuul's monthly membership is $4.99 for premium movies and $0.99-$2.99 for special movies, which are only available for 72 hours after playing the movie for the first time.