Two major broadcasters, Star India and Sony Pictures Networks, have signed deals with Reliance Jio to place their content apps on the telecom provider’s fiber to the home set-top-box, even as others are in talks to do so.
Under the deals, Jio will provide a fixed amount for each subscriber who accesses these apps for viewing content. Star India, a unit of The Walt Disney Co, distributes its content using the Hotstar app, while Sony’s content app is called Sony LIV.
According to sources, the Mukesh Ambani-led company was interested in incorporating content from Hotstar and Sony LIV into its main app — JioCinema, but the broadcasters wanted to maintain a separate identity for their apps.
Jio Fiber set-top-boxes run on a locked version of the Android TV operating system. As such, apps such as Hotstar and Sony LIV, which are designed for Android, can also run on Jio’s box.
However, like many TV makers, Jio has not enabled the Google Play Store on its boxes, nor does it allow users to ‘sideload’ apps using a USB drive or downloaded APK files. In fact, the box does not come with an email app or browser that would have allowed users to download APK files.
All apps, instead, have to be installed from the Jio Box application store, which currently has only 11 apps. Besides Hotstar, LIV and Youtube, all the other applications are from the Reliance Group, including Voot, JioSaavn and Jiotv+.
ON DECK, OFF DECK
Meanwhile, several other content providers, such as Balaji Telefilms and Eros Entertainment, have signed agreements with Reliance to have their content placed inside the JioCinema app.
Content from these smaller players joins that from three of the five big broadcasting groups in the country, including Network18 — also owned by Reliance Group.
This leaves two major broadcasting groups — Zee Entertainment and Sun TV — as the holdouts.
According to sources, the telco is in talks with both to bring their content to the fiber box platform.
Interestingly, Sun TV Group has started making some of its films available on the JioCinema smartphone app earlier this month, suggesting that its app Sun NXT may be next in line to appear on the Jio box platform.
However, Sun TV does not distribute its TV content on the JioCinema app for smartphones. It is not clear if the same will be available on the Jio Box.
Sun TV, like Star and Sony, too is reported to be keen to have its app placed separately on the Jio Fiber Box, and is likely to be provided a place on the app store as well.
Broadcasters like Sun, Star, Zee and Sony prefer to have their apps placed outside the JioCinema app so that they can build their brands independently and outside of the Jio ecosystem.
They believe that a customer who clicks on Hotstar, Zee5 or Sun NXT icon on his set-top-box is more likely to do the same on his smartphone and TV as well.
It is for the same reason that Reliance has placed Voot — which incorporates content from its own Viacom18 unit — as a separate app on the fiber box, even though the content is also distributed via the JioCinema app on other platforms.
On the downside, the segregation of content into different apps makes it less accessible by way of both search and suggestions.
If all the videos and movies from all broadcasters were available on one app, it would have been easier for the customer to conduct a single search and pull up results from all broadcasters at one go.
Under the current system, a subscriber has to open each app in turn to search for a particular movie.
Jio will be paying a fixed subscription fee for any of its customers who activates these apps. However, the fixed fee paid by Jio will be far lower than what customers would be paying if they were to purchase the subscription directly, and is already included in most of the Jio Fiber plans.
An annual subscription to Hotstar, available ‘for free’ for Jio Fiber users, costs Rs 999 outside the platform.