Airtel+Bigflix wants to be India’s Netflix

Bharti Airtel has partnered with Reliance Communication’s Bigflix to stream movies, music videos and TV shows to Airtel broadband connections. The package is priced at Rs.229 per month and is available for Airtel’s broadband subscribers only. An unlikely combination considering both Airtel and Reliance compete in the same space. The service is branded as Airtel Movies with Bigflix working as a backbone.

India has close to 12 million broadband users and quite a few of these are Airtel broadband subscribers. That’s a good enough population and at Rs. 229 per month, people might embrace Airtel Movies. BigFlix has plans to roll this service out to other broadband providers as well. A move that will pay rich dividends. Bigflix has also removed the 500 movies on offer from its non-subscription catalog.

Netflix, Hulu and the ilk…

There is no denying that India has a great appetite for Hollywood movies. Down south, Hollywood movies are dubbed to regional languages with weird and twisted movie titles. Netflix and Hulu don’t yet operate in India. There is a remote chance of Netflix entering India now that they have a case study in Airtel Movies. One distinct advantage Airtel Movies will have over any new entrants is its pricing. At Rs. 229 per month, Airtel got the pricing just right. Something Netflix might find hard to achieve, if at all it comes to India. Airtel Movies will still rule the roost with its Bollywood content.

Netflix customer Carleen Ho holds up DVD movies, "Talladega Nights" and "Pirates of the Caribbean' that she rented from Netflix, at her home in Palo Alto, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007. Pic: AP.


There’s only one problem with AirFlix. It looks like a doppelganger of Netflix but Netflix has one big advantage. Netflix has started out as a DVD rental service then moved on to broadband/streaming and succeeded. It now controls a majority of video streaming in the US. When Netflix decided to go online the US had broadband. A broadband in its strict sense. Airflix doesn’t have that advantage. Airtel itself is struggling to provide broadband speeds to many customers and decided to tweak its policy a little bit in what it calls a fair usage policy. After a certain limit the speed drops to 256 kbps. When the paid video subscribers come online, they demand speed and hog the bandwidth. Will Airtel give them a special pass by tweaking the speeds to cater to their paid customers?

In a sense Airtel Movies is a winner already. With a wide movie collection and great pricing, it has the makings of India’s Netflix. More than Netflix, it could be the answer to India’s ubiquitous and rampant piracy.