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Stream it straight

Kushan Mitra     October 12, 2010
A funny thing happened recently while I was visiting a friend in California. I asked what games he had for his Sony PlayStation 3. None, he said. "So, why did you buy the thing then," I asked. "It is a cheap Blu-ray Disc player," he replied.

He must have a cupboard full of Blu-ray Disc movies, I thought. But he had only a couple of movies bought off the discount rack at a local store, which made me repeat the first question.

"The Netflix application," pat came his reply. He had just about borrowed a couple of discs from the mail-in DVD rental service Netflix. He was watching most of the movies using the Netflix application on PS3, which allows him to stream movies directly from the Internet on to his TV. In fact, he could do that over his home Wi-Fi network as well, running at a more than respectable 10 megabits per second, to stream movies using the Netflix application on his Apple iPad.

But he was not the only person doing it. Another friend was doing exactly the same thing on his iPhone 4. And the movies being streamed were at full high-definition, at least throughout PS3.

What is amazing is that despite all its advances in the technology sphere, India remains woefully behind on the consumer electronics front, hampered as it is by its obsession with "low-cost" and "good enough". It is not as if the Netflix application was discovered yesterday; it has been around for some time. Some of the latest flat panels from LG, Samsung and Sony actually have the application embedded directly in the TV itself. But these companies, even while promoting 3D in India, are not selling web-enabled TVs.

While it may not be true of all people, one can safely assume that someone who owns a large flatscreen TV in India can afford (or has) a decent broadband connection as well.

But beyond cribbing about such services not being available in India yet or that the proportion of the market that can afford such services being small in absolute numbers, there could be millions of users. If Nokia can launch an "all-you-can-listen" music service, what stops someone from launching an "all-you-can-watch" movie service.

The good thing about such a service is that the movies are never stored on any device and so there is little risk of piracy and illegal distribution. And since there are no discs involved, it keeps the production cost down and is environment friendly too.

Even if it is a "payper-view" service, which is different from the unableto-pause service offered by Directto-Home service providers, it can be delivered using next-generation LTE or WiMax networks, at least to those without high-definition sets. Since HD transmission requires speeds that only wired Internet can offer, this service can be a winner in India.

With movies on the phone, on tablets, on TV-on-demand, the "all-you-can-watch" movie service will be like parking an ice-cream cart outside a school gate after the dismissal bell.

Blockbuster, which was once the largest movie rental service in America, went bankrupt early September. Netflix was smart enough to adapt, and in doing so became cool all over again. There is an opportunity for a Netflix in India. And if your business is in discs, I would not just be worried, but very worried.

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