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Bollywood calling

Published 01.12.08 at 09:00

It's on the big screen and now on the smallest screen as well. Glitzy, loud but smashing Bollywood content is pouring out of mobile phones leading to a recycling industry that is rich in profits, says Arun Katiyar.

Let's start with a mind-bending number: in July 2008 the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India announced that Indian mobile telecom firms added 9.2 million users in July 2008, taking subscribers in the world's fastest growing wireless market to nearly 300 million. At this rate of growth, India now has 340 million mobile phone subscribers – second only to China's 500 million. Every bounty hunter in the Indian content space knows where to look for the pot of gold. But do you know the funny thing? Stake over that bounty has already been claimed by India's GB£1-billion Hindi movie industry, popularly called Bollywood.

According to a IMImobile study released earlier this year, the dashing Shahrukh Khan and the lissome Katrina Kaif top the list of most downloaded mobile content. Both are ruling megastars on the Bollywood scene. IMImobile, a leading global provider of value-added services for operators across Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East found that royalties worth approximately GB£6.3-7.5 million were paid to the music industry in the past year and a half. About 400,000 to 500,000 ringtones are downloaded daily and mobile music downloads which top the bill are currently valued at GB£22.5 million in the domestic market.

Bollywood is not just a cash cow; it is a reminder of the entertainment DNA that Indians carry within them: if it's Bollywood, they must have it pronto.

A new revenue stream for Bollywood
The Indian penchant for Bollywood content is forcing Indian movie production houses to extend themselves beyond the traditional business model where movies were sold for a lump sum for screening in geographical territories to distributors, and soundtrack rights were sold to music labels. These days, there is more to be milked from the movies: wallpapers, ringtones, call back tones, music downloads and movie-based games.

Today, music companies like Saregama and mega movie production houses like Rajshri have become Mobile Value Added Service (VAS) providers, using copyrighted content from their endless popular productions to grow bottom lines. Non-movie companies have been swift to understand the business and move in. Content aggregators and distributors like Mauj, Hungama and OnMobile are becoming household names. Many of them have begun to tie up with movie production houses that do not have the expertise or the technology to distribute their content over mobile networks and reach their audiences which are tucked away in remote villages. An entire eco-system of movie producers, VAS providers and mobile networks has begun to emerge dealing with original high-value content, its technology-based distribution platforms and billing, adding to the entertainment value chain.

Some months ago, Mumbai-based mobile content company Coruscant Tec found a buyer, perhaps setting off a new trend. The buyer was Bollywood biggie Mukta Arts Ltd which now has a 51% stake in Coruscant. Mukta Arts Chairman Subhash Ghai is amongst Bollywood's most successful directors and has the reputation of being a shrewd thinker.

Sitting on a goldmine?
The Coruscant acquisition gives Mukta the capabilities to digitise its vast library of Bollywood content that has been sitting in archives waiting for the occasional low-revenue re-run on television. At the time of the acquisition, Subhash Ghai was reported by the media as saying that the acquisition of Coruscant Tec was a logical step towards launching Mukta's web and mobile digital initiatives and entering the VAS space. He expected synergies arising out of short format content. Basically what Ghai was hinting at is the future of mobile entertainment: movies made for mobiles.

Last year, Nokia N series in association with Subhash Ghai's Whistling Woods International announced an award for mobile filmmakers, aimed at roping in young and upcoming filmmakers to produce original content. In essence, Mukta Arts was working to a plan and could soon be the first off the block with mobile movies in the Indian market.

Amit Sinha, General Manager Retail, at One97 Communications, India's largest VAS provider says the biggest focus currently in terms of creating original IP are platforms and applications for ad-supported content consumption. 'One97 is developing a platform specifically tailored to serving the unique characteristics of the Indian market. It enables profiling, advanced analytics and the relevant discovery of products and services to the end customer,' said Sinha. Guess which content the One97 platform will help find more easily? Bollywood, naturally. The One97 platform is meant to leverage the mobile content boom in a more scientific and sensible manner – not to speak of quick. It is an end-to-end system which creates advertising real-estate in all the major delivery channels through intelligent profiling of mobile users basis the footprints they leave on the mobile network. And the major footprint that Indian users are leaving leads to Bollywood.

Arun Katiyar is an independent Bangalore-based content and communications consultant. 

Photo credit: Wili_Hybrid

Please note that this article provides general information only and is not to be regarded as legal advice.

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