Executives at one of Asia’s oldest video startups, Bollywood movie specialist Spuul, are seeking to accelerate customer acquisition – from around 500,000 active paying subs today to a targeted 2 million by the end of the year – after introducing localized pricing, as part of a major service upgrade that goes live this month.
Much of this year’s growth should come from India, where the overhaul effectively halves the cost of a 30-day subscription, from Rs300 (US$4.40) to Rs150 (US$2.20).
The latest changes also open up sachet pricing, starting at Rs30 for five days, while speeding up load times and lightening bandwidth requirements, all designed to enhance Spuul’s appeal for new and existing subscribers.
It’s Spuul’s second big overhaul after the six-year-old service first came online in 2010.
Meanwhile, more partnerships across the ecosystem are on the way, explains CEO Subin Subaiah (pictured above), including wider reach via new payment channels, more carrier deals (including all major telcos by the end of next month), and a bigger collection of non-Hindi films.
“With the kind of distribution and payment channels that we have, the access points and price points, the content acquisition strategy and our other partnerships, quadrupling [subscriber] numbers is a viable proposition,” Subaiah declares.
Spuul first gained traction among India’s global diaspora, which shaped early development of a product offering that, until recently, was confined to a single price.
The balance has been shifting towards local Indian viewers, who became the majority last year. Nonetheless, the business retains an international outlook, pursuing global rights where it can.
“When we started, we learnt off the diaspora markets, and reinvented for India,” Subaiah tells Media Business Asia. “Now we’re learning off the Indian markets.”
The diaspora also spans multiple customer segments and video ecosystems, Spuul’s CEO points out, that greater exposure to India can help unlock.
“When you learn lessons from India, and you implement them outside, you discover new customer bases that had been ignored,” Subaiah notes.
“It’s not about being focused on India or being focused on the global diaspora,” he adds.
“It is, in some ways, a very integrated proposition, where you optimize earnings from every single market by accepting that market is unique, and needs to be dealt with in a special way. That’s what [Spuul] version three now helps us to do.”
INDIA TIPPING POINT
OTT video is nearing critical mass in India, Spuul’s cornerstone market, thanks to ongoing improvements in online payments and mobile distribution. More paid and free video services are joining the fray.
Navigating this fast-changing growth phase costs money, and Subaiah – an ex-banker – is talking to potential backers about Spuul’s next round of funding.
The business has been run as a profitable venture so far, but that could change as competitive intensity increases.
“It’s about how you want to grow the business,” Subaiah says.
“We want to build a business that will provide a return for our investors that they will be very pleased with,” he adds. “How that happens is a matter of execution.”
For now, Spuul is focusing efforts on developing subscription revenues around movies, an increasingly crowded sector. At the same time however, Spuul continues to run a freemium option with a far larger customer base that earns a little ad money on the side.
It’s a hedge, Subaiah explains, should market conditions change.
“We’ve kept the AVOD model alive within the system. In the circumstance that that shift happens, we are ready to grab it,” he says.
“We have also worked with content owners to allow us to offer content for free. If ad revenue jumps up, we can capture that for them, particularly for catalogs which are not recent.”
Similarly, possible expansion into original content, TV shows and linear services all feature in the gameplan.
“We want to get the Indian movie proposition right first,” Subaiah stresses. “Then, if a certain market is very demanding for a packaged deal with linear TV and movies, that’s in the plans to graduate to other things.”
Moving into original content, meanwhile, is also a matter of time.
“We are constantly thinking about it, because you have to,” Subaiah says. “You have to because there are an increasing number of independent high quality producers and directors who now want to create content for the internet.”
It would be foolish to ignore such a trend, he adds.
“How you contract with them, whether you create an exclusivity for yourself or you commission it for Spuul, is all a function of how much money you are prepared to spend and where it is going to be monetized,” he says.
“We are all working on it, shall we say. It will happen in due course.”