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30 July 2020

Zee5 dreams of mainstream OTT, with multi-language navigation key

In the same week that US cloud TV connoisseur Kaltura secured a small but prospective deployment at Czech telco CETIN, we were also treated to some unusual insights from an existing OTT customer in Zee5 – the flourishing South Asian streaming platform that first selected Kaltura in September 2019.

Although entirely unconnected, the pairing was serendipitous, given how Zee5 is an example of how an OTT video service can successfully partner a telco, while CETIN is a case of a telco seeking a cloud TV back-end on which to build a content aggregation business.

Almost a year on since rolling out the Kaltura TV Platform Player, Zee5 has big ambitions of evolving from a renowned APAC OTT video platform, to a truly mainstream global OTT offering. It would be easy to scoff and say, “Yeah, good luck with that pipe dream,” yet Zee5 – part of Zee Entertainment – is already well on its way to gaining a fierce reputation outside of its native India.

Zee5 claims to be the largest OTT platform for South Asian content, with a footprint that few can match with presence in 197 countries, offering over 100,000 hours content to some 11.4 million daily viewers, in 18 languages via multiple distribution partners. Of all these impressive numbers, the smallest one is the standout achievement. Supporting 18 languages might not sound like much on a global scale, until you understand how Zee5 took this to another level.

Zee5’s Chief Business Officer, Archana Anand, explained during a webinar chat this week, “One size never fits all in India because it’s so varied. This is why we launched with 12 languages, which was the most of any platform at the time, but this not only applied to content. We took it one step further with multiple languages across navigation, then we added voice command support in 12 languages. Even when going global, expanding to 18 languages, we ensured these 18 languages were available across navigation and search.”

“We were pioneers of OTT in India, launched back in 2012 way before the ecosystem was ready; way before digital was ready; way before broadband was ready. We were also pioneers in the sense of linear TV and taking it global – what you will see is us getting aggressively into the mainstream space,” she added. We can agree with the former point about investing in OTT way before the infrastructure in India was capable of handing anything OTT at scale, but the idea of Zee5 being the first to take linear TV global via OTT sounds flimsy.

“One of our aspirations upon launching was to integrate as many OTTs into one central platform across the business to bring more direction. We were also acutely aware at the time that there was a shift happening globally, with cord cutting becoming a reality in the  Western world, so we knew that we needed an aggressive plan on the digital side,” she added.

Executives are typically full of big, bold claims and Archana was no exception, claiming Zee5 was also the first to pioneer the OTT-telco relationship which has seen countless OTT video platforms go from zero to hero in a matter of months. Before Zee5 jumped into bed with the likes of AirTel, Vodafone and Reliance Jio, people were skeptical of the strategy, describing OTT as intrinsically a D2C play, which was apparently seen as a mismatch with telcos at the time. People soon ate humble pie.

“On one hand, telcos had long moved from a voice play to a data play, and nothing is more ubiquitous to the consumption of data than video. So, a telco and an OTT sitting together is hugely symbiotic in nature, and this helped us understand monetization, marketing, targeting models etc, before going global,” continued Anand.

From India to the Czech Republic now – two markets which could hardly be more contrasting if they tried. PPF Group-owned telco CETIN, which inherited mobile and fixed line network assets from O2 Czech Republic, is deploying a cloud TV platform using Kaltura’s TV Platform, as well as cross device user experience, security, origin packager and a private CDN from Broadpeak. This may also include the migration of existing TV services to the new cloud-based platform.

This takes Kaltura to three operators now running its TV back-end across a single multi-tenant cloud-based TV service across multiple countries – joining Vodafone and Beeline TV in Russia. With Kaltura now delivering back-end components for Vodafone TV across five countries, you could argue the case for Vodafone counting as five separate deployments – although Vodafone would say its fragmentation days are long gone.