Before Atul Phadnis came along, watching television was like playing finger roulette-flipping channels with the remote control in the hope that you might find something interesting to watch. But leaving their evening entertainment to a game of chance was nerve-wracking and most viewers ended up missing programmes of their choice.
But all this changed in 2007. Atul Phadnis launched an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), What's on India, that covered the programming of over 700 television. With an easy-to-navigate menu, this service was initially available only on set-top boxes till it was later extended to DTH, IPTV and mobile TV. Then, in 2012, the company launched its EPG in the form of a separate TV channel. It is now also available on the Web and smart phones.
This innovation altogether changed the TV viewing experience, especially since 70 per cent of viewers, more often than not, switch on their TV sets without knowing what to watch. Not surprisingly, the What's on India TV channel enjoys a 30-million home viewership, all this with just 150 employees.
So what made Phadnis come up with this brilliant platform? "In 2004, the government made it mandatory to have a set-top box to watch TV. Therefore, there was clutter in the industry. I wanted to answer the question, 'What would happen to choice and search of programmes if people were exposed to 700 channels instead of just 60'? The newspapers were certainly not capable of listing all the programmes." So Phadnis quit his job as Vice-President of TAM Media Research and turned entrepreneur.
What's on India generates revenue through three streams:
* 40 per cent comes from annual fees for providing the service to cable operators who sell set-top boxes, DTH, IPTV and mobile TV. The fee depends on the number of connections the operator has. Currently, the company serves operators who have 500 to 9 million connections
* 25 per cent comes from advertisement revenues on TV channels
* 35 per cent comes from monthly fees paid by broadcasting companies to TV Street Maps to figure out how their own channel and competing channels are distributed and viewed across the country. What's on India also provides technology solutions like making apps for other companies.
Surviving The Odds
Phadnis, who had a decade's experience in the advertising and TV industry, set up a media consultancy firm called E2E to raise funds for his dream project. "We were burning a lot of cash to build the platform and it took a year longer than we had anticipated. There was no standard prescribed for making set-top-boxes in India and we had to configure the platform for every box separately," says Phadnis, who shut the consultancy in 2008 once the technology platform took off.
Besides cash, acceptance of this B2B frame, which was a little ahead of its time, was a major challenge back then. "To make people understand the need for such a platform, I got caught up in a lot of documentation and made detailed presentations by using case studies from the UK and the US," reveals Phadnis.
In December 2011, What's on India acquired a company engaged in TV channel distribution monitoring and which was mapping the cable system across 220 towns. This area-by-area and street-by-street research would reveal the availability and placements across thousands of head-ends. The company is called TV Street Maps and is now present in more than 450 towns across India.
Over the years, Phadnis has also launched a host of other media assets such as mobile portals, widgets and apps. It has 30 TV search and EPG apps across platforms like Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows, BlackBerry and Sony Bravia smart TV, which enable customers to search not just by genre but also actors, directors etc. Viewers also get to watch a small trailer before the movie starts to roll.
"Last year, we figured out that our technology was well suited to other markets too. Therefore, we launched our Middle East operation under the name What's-on-Arabia. We choose markets that are two to three years behind India, from a TV technology perspective. Markets where set-top-boxes are just introduced are ideal for us. Also, markets which have more than 100 channels are the perfect recipe for our platform."