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Co-founder Krishnan Rajagopalan talks about HOOQ’s India strategy

MUMBAI: HOOQ, a JV between Singtel, Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros, is looking at different price points and a breadth of local content as it gears up to launch its video service for Indian consumers in June.

HOOQ is planning to add 200 titles a day over the next three months. Given the amount of investment, the aim is to lure millions of consumers. HOOQ co-founder, head of content and distribution Krishnan Rajagopalan expects the major metros to adopt the service first and notes that millenials are early adopters of new technologies.

Krishnan RajagopalanRajagopalan said that the width of content, including Hollywood and Hindi movies as well as content in regional languages like Bengali and Marathi, is not available on ad-supported networks and the quality of the user experience will be the OTT’s USP. HOOQ has lined up 15,000 movies and TV shows and will start with a monthly subscription fee of Rs 199.

Going forward, HOOQ will launch services at different price points. “A big part of the market is a pre-paid segment and a cash economy. If you look at the mass segment, even the Rs 199 is a bit high. Therefore, we will create products that will enable even the lower socio-economic segments to access us. We have invested millions of dollars in content and technology. We are here for the long haul. We are not under pressure to breakeven this year or in this quarter,” Rajagopalan said.

HOOQ is in talks with telcos, ISPs and retail outlets to sell its app. “If there is a value in a consumer getting HOOQ through a channel, then we will make sure that it happens. Scaling the business in India isn’t easy. Just capital isn’t enough. You need a partnership model. We have a library of 10,000 Indian movies and over 5000 international movies and TV shows. We are also adding 200 titles a day and will do so over the next three months. We will have European cinema and Asian cinema like Thai horror. In terms of Indian content, we are also talking with NFDC and the Goa Film Festival. There is quality independent cinema being made here that we would like to showcase,” Rajagopalan added.

Since the objective is to provide a curated experience, the homepage showcases hot and trending content. People in Mumbai will see different things compared to people in Bengaluru. There are categories like action, drama, etc. There is a recommendation strip at the bottom.

HOOQ will not compete with television broadcasters as it won’t have live streams; it will complement TV. “We don’t have live streams. We don’t have news or sports. The content catalogue is complementary. No channel or service out there has such a large volume of movies and television series. We are not trying to disrupt TV. In fact, a lot of broadcasters are our partners as we license content from them,” Rajagopalan said.

HOOQ will not carry ads because people don’t like them to interfere with their viewing experience. ThougHOOQh getting people to pay for an online service will be a challenge as Indians are used to free online content, Rajagopalan is confident that there are enough people willing to pay at the right price point. The content that free apps like Hotstar offer is different from what HOOQ is giving.

Piracy is another challenge, but he points out to the technical difficulty of downloading a movie and then transferring it to the mobile.

On the technical side, he noted that there are 15 variations of a file to account for different download speeds. Users who want to conserve data can turn off mobile streaming. Another USP of HOOQ is that it allows users to download content like movies. This, he said, is relevant to a market like India given its connectivity issues.

For him 4G is one of the factors that will improve the experience of video content access online.

Talking about how he got the idea for HOOQ, he said, “I came up with the initial concept at Singtel. I spent a lot of time in Hollywood working with the studios and I knew that they wanted to partner such services. At Singtel, we realised that in the emerging markets the big challenge is monetisation and distribution. Telcos have the best distribution capabilities in these markets. We have good access and relationships with studios. Singtel has a strong starting point for distribution. As a platform, we could solve issues in emerging markets like network connectivity, building gateways, monetisation, and getting large capital. These are must-haves for a service to succeed. If you put these two groups together, all the ingredients came together.”

He clarified that HOOQ’s aim is not to be like Netflix. “Netflix is a different product and a different construct. Their philosophy to scale is different. We, on the other hand, will bring features relevant to emerging markets whether it is product, content, or pricing schemes. We will do a lot of things differently from players like Netflix.”

Netflix has one-size-fits-all strategy. It is a single product and a single price. HOOQ will not take this route, but have different products at various price points. “Connectivity is a big issue here. We have the download feature that even Netflix does not have.”

In due course, HOOQ will look at a transactional model that would include the latest shows and seasons from the US. With respect to net neutrality, Rajagopalan said that all packets of data should be treated equally.

Singtel CEO of group digital life Samba Natarajan said, “The growing interconnectivity and rapid adoption of smart devices present a great opportunity to enhance the way people live, work, and play in Asia. With Hooq, we want to revolutionise entertainment for our customers. Our unique telco assets and our partnership with Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros. will position HOOQ to become the largest over-the-top video service in the region.”

Sony Pictures Television executive VP Networks George Chien said, “We share the excitement of offering entertainment fans across Asia access to high quality video services directly to their mobile devices. Hooq provides a unique combination of Hollywood and local favourites while providing a high-quality viewing experience they’ve come to expect in today’s digital world.”

Warner Bros. VP corporate business development and strategy Anuraj Goonetilleke said, “We’re very excited about the launch of our joint video-on-demand business across Asia, starting with the Philippines, Thailand, and now India. Providing world-class content to Asia’s entertainment fans will meet a voracious appetite for new and classic videos and TV episodes on-demand.”

The service will also be accessible to all customers in India through its website www.hooq.tv. Customers can watch videos of their choice and pay for the subscription through multiple e-payment options such as credit card, debit card, cash card, internet banking and mobile wallet.

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