The State of Indian Streaming Services & the bad UX of "Originals"

Vidit Bhargava
A few years back streaming video in India meant that you’d either have to goto YouTube and search for a movie promoted in the “YouTube Box Office” or you’d have to look for one of the services from “Spuul” or “BoxTV”, none of them really had accessible major titles. While “Spuul” had Yash Raj Films as it’s official digital streaming partner but that was all about it, they didn’t get much else. Moreover, the apps were horrible. I remember watching Gangs of Wasseypur II on Spuul and their flash player made the usually quiet fans of my MacBook Pro run full throttle. In short, the experience of these services made the option practically worthless.

But everything changed this January, when Netflix decided that it was coming to India and a bunch of other countries. Netflix Entry opened up Indian users to quality streaming services along with content that actually mattered. And this helped other International Players take cue and offer their services in India and other countries too. So, by the end of the year, we have Netflix offering greater International and Indian Content ; Hotstar (Star Group’s streaming service) offering HBO’s library, the entire Star Group Channel catalogue and Live TV for Sports and Even Amazon Prime Video coming to India and begin to offer local content as “Originals”. The streaming video battle is all set to begin, but the crack’s are already showing in this “Better” TV Experience.

3 Streaming Services. All Vying for “Exclusive Rights”

At the moment, if you want Yash Raj Film’s movies you’d need to subscribe to Amazon Prime. If you wish to watch a BBC One Show or watch an Indie-Indian Movie, you’ll need a Netflix Subscription. If you wish to watch an HBO Show, go get a Hotstar subscription. The problem? There’s enough great content on all three of these services, to make you want to have a subscription, but it’s the TV Bundles all over again.

Televisions basically run on Channel Subscriptions, you may not watch everything the channel has to offer but you end up paying for it anyway. And it often happens that what you want to watch is actually divided into 4 or 5 channels. A show at CBS, a couple of them at HBO and perhaps one on MTV. Streaming services on the other hand aim to solve this problem when they offer content from multiple sources, on demand, encapsulated in one service.

But over time, the very problem these services aimed at eradicating has come back to bite the users in the form of “Exclusive Content”. With Amazon, Hotstar and Netflix all eyeing for “Exclusive Rights to content” the experience is becoming less user friendly by the day. Amazon has exclusive rights to stream content from Dharma Productions and Yash Raj Films, Hotstar has exclusive rights to movies from Disney, Netflix has exclusive rights to shows from BBC One.

Moreover, major streaming services across the world are looking for ‘Original Content’, content that differentiates them from other streaming services. The idea being, “If only we have the show that most people want to watch, they’ll join us and not the other streaming service”. What this has done is, create a pool of great TV shows, all scattered across different services. So, if you were like me and wanted to watch “Daredevil”, “Silicon Valley” and “Mr. Robot” you’d be buying subscriptions to three different services.

So, lets zoom out a little. Previously I was paying for a TV Subscription pack which offered me “Sports”, “International Shows” and “Movies” and my monthly bill easily shot past Rs. 600. Now, I’m subscribing to three different streaming services to get the same type of content, and my bill is still well over Rs. 600 per month.

This new Internet streaming model has offered me “On-Demand Streaming”, “globally synchronised Airing of TV Shows” and “portability of viewing TV content” as advantages over my TV Subscription. But If I look at it from one end, it’s also plagued with some of the same problems that the TV industry is plagued with. That is the fact that I’m still paying for what I don’t want to watch, I’m still paying to ‘new kinds of TV channels’ and I’m still paying an unreasonable amount for just a few shows.

Originals or Exclusive content on any streaming service is a bad user experience. With each streaming service vying for content you can only watch on their platform, users are forced to pick platforms rather than choose them based on the user experience

Is this a better experience At all? In some ways, it is. Like I said at the starting, Streaming of shows has completely changed the TV industry in some ways. Most notably, the global scaling of these services has meant that video is no longer behind regulatory bars which would hinder the content from reaching their viewers. Yes, TV is way more portable now. But in a lot of ways, it’s still tied to the economics of the TV Industry, the original shows, the channel subscriptions and the race for the rights. They still exist, even though in a different form.