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3 October 2019

Zee5 gets Kaltura treatment – to support belated global expansion?

A year on since Faultline Online Reporter described Zee Entertainment as one of India’s most progressive media companies and a few months since becoming the subject of US acquisition interest, the firm has selected Kaltura to strengthen Zee5, its fast-climbing OTT video offering. A global expansion effort was fronted as a key milestone for Zee5 earlier this year, plans which have since dissipated, so Kaltura’s helping hand alongside a couple of other recent vendor recruitments looks like Zee finally preparing to fulfil its promise of breaking into 190 new countries.

Kaltura, with the ink barely dry on its breakthrough expansion contract at flagship customer Vodafone (with more deployments to come), is supplying Zee5 with its TV Platform Player to provide “elastic scale” for a service already boasting a monthly active user base of 76 million and daily logins approaching 7 million.

Kaltura joins Optimove, which was recently tapped by Zee5 to provide a suite of services covering insight, engagement and optimization, along with app development firm Applicaster. New York-based Kaltura says it is sliding in at the “heart” of Zee5’s OTT video operations with native mobile SDKs to accommodate for the vast spread of devices used across Asia Pacific, which is notorious for its wealth of legacy handsets. Kaltura also plans to introduce new advertising formats – presumably it means ventures like interactive ads although it could mean more ambitious addressable projects – as well as what it calls “gamification of the video experience”.

Zee5 isn’t the first Indian rodeo for Kaltura’s TV Platform Player, powering the ad-supported OTT video service Voot from Indian network Viacom18, in a project which also includes the renowned recommendation engine from ThinkAnalytics. Voot has grown its active user base from 37 million to 40 million in approximately 7 months and has – like Zee5 – been exploring overseas launch opportunities, although initial assurances are well over a year behind anything resembling progress, likely running into content licensing roadblocks as opposed to technical difficulties.

Kaltura’s TV Platform Player was given a face-lift in July last year, at the time claiming 20% faster load time over rival players to initiate playback in sub-second speeds – thanks in part to supporting both AWS and Azure cloud infrastructure, where before it only relied on the former. Newer versions of its native SDKs and web player have helped connect pieces of the platform-as-a-service offering together.

Unveiled in February 2018, Zee5 has ambitions of becoming India’s top dog in AVoD and today claims to be India’s fastest growing “ConTech” brand, maybe something it picked up from the Singapore-based ConnecTech Asia show – the amalgamation of Broadcast Asia, CommunicAsia and NXTAsia.

Zee’s second quarter results filing mentions the recent roll out of content into priority APAC markets as well as introducing Indian content dubbed in 5 international languages, an expansion it promises will be followed by MENA, Europe, Canada and Caribbean markets. Zee5’s plan is for developed regions such as the US and UK to receive content on an SVoD basis, while the Middle East and North Africa will get Zee5 as a freemium offering. Only Netflix and Amazon have a similarly ubiquitous presence, and billionaire founder Subhash Chandra has pledged to invest in 90 original programs throughout 2019 to complement its existing library of 3,500 movies.

More recently, Zee5 has reportedly come close to inking a significant streaming deal with Amazon which will involve Prime Video adding 100,000 hours of local content. The Economic Times of India published in July that revenue sharing discussions were underway, as well as looking at whether Zee5 content should be available as in-app or app-in-app formats.

Zee5 CEO Tarun Katial commented, “The Kaltura TV Player will better enable us to stay ahead of the quickly changing market with the rapid proliferation of devices, across various network connections, and growing consumer demand. With this partnership, we want to reinstate our commitment to democratize Zee5’s 100,000+ hours of content by making it accessible for consumer viewing anytime, anywhere.”

It seems to us that Indian video streaming companies like Zee5 and Voot have been feeding the press titbits of overambitious promises of global launches and mega content deals, without following through. This in turn sparked a swirl of rumors back in February that Zee5 was subject to bids from US giants including Comcast, Sony and Apple, along with a consortium of Chinese technology firms.

Reliance Industries, owner of disruptive MNO Reliance Jio, is another rumored bidder, as is investment company Atairos, again according to the often over-excitable Economic Times of India, although we feel it’s unlikely a foreign company would dive in with a full takeover, instead exploring an equal stake to work with a local partner. That would be wise given the diversity of languages in India.