Bharti Airtel to be ‘careful’ about content investments, prefer tie-ups

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Reliance Jio’s delays in ‘going pay’ with its content suite seems to be giving rivals like Bharti Airtel pause for thought as far as their content plans are concerned.

Jio unveiled a large suite of content applications when it launched its telecom service two years ago, prompting rivals like Airtel and Idea Cellular to draw up aggressive content plans of their own.

Jio’s suite of apps were supposed to be free till the end of 2017, with customers starting to pay for them after that.

However, the operator continues to offer the apps free to its telecom subscribers. It is estimated that the company is spending hundreds of crores of rupees per year on these apps.

Speaking after announcing Airtel’s first-quarter results, Vittal indicated that Airtel was not willing to take those sort of risks.

“Monetizing this content is a challenge in this market,” he said.

“So we will be very, very smart and careful about the sort of content investments we make. We are not going around making large content bets and investments.”

Traditionally, content in India has been created by film makers, TV channel companies or contractors and production houses hired by these TV channels.

With the coming of the Internet, many of these production houses, like Balaji Telefilms, started producing content solely targeted at the Internet audience as well.

It also saw the rise of a new breed of companies like Amazon Prime and Netflix that produce content that is only monetized through the Internet. Last week, Jio too was reported to be readying plans to create original content.

Vittal seemed less willing to take that leap.

“We will prefer to ally and use these alliances to driver our content offerings,” he said.

He said it Airtel will tap into the large repertoire of content produced by traditional content makers — both via its content app Airtel TV, as well as outside it.

As an example of Airtel’s attempt to channel content outside of its app, the company offers free Amazon Prime memberships on some of its contract plans.

Vittal said Airtel could ‘perhaps’ enter into a similar deal with Netflix as well.

“We will use all of these relationships as well, to play in the content space, while we continue to drive Airtel TV with content from linear television and webisodes and so on,” he added.

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