How News Corp Plans To Profit From Mobile Audio Subscriptions In India

Forget iPads and smartphone apps – in India, the real “new media” are basic feature phones.

Media companies aren’t letting the market’s relative technological immaturity stand in their way – they’re embracing new opportunities using old media

People are buying $50 phones that can only make a call – so we’ve given that access to all kinds of content on a multimodal number,” the digital VP of News Corp.’s Star TV, Lalit Bhagia, told Digital Content Monetisation Europe in London on Tuesday.

“(Providers in India) are providing subscription content on voice. People pay half a dollar a month to listen to old movies.” Bhagia calls it “audio cinema”.

“The kinds of stuff that has worked well is converting a two-and-a-half hour Bollywood movie in to 30- to 40-minute audio content which they listen to on the mobile.” The library ranges from classic flicks like Sholay to new releases, with one hour of free listening per month. But it’s not just cinema Indians are subscribing to…

If you missed your favourite TV show, you can dial a number and listen to your favourite show,” Bhagia said. There are also TV-related contests and an intriguing take on the familiar microblogging…

“Like with Twitter and stuff, the stars leave audio blogs – whether they were catching a taxi, or are on set, or what they’re eating,” Bhagia. Some of the most popular movie personalities count as many as 700,000 to a million subscribers paying to dial up to their latest audio status updates (Ev and Biz, take note).

With nearly 700 million mobile phones in circulation in India – more than TV sets – it’s a significant opportunity, even given the low subscription rates of 20 to 50 cents a month for such a service.

It’s a crime to limit new media just to laptops and iPads, there’s so much more,” Bhagia told paidContent:UK. “Mobile is already reaching a lot of people that can’t afford a television. For a lot of people, the only means of entertainment is mobile.”

But in overseas markets, Star TV plans to court an international audience of 22 million south Asians with a very digital paid subscription video offering.

“It’s a whole different ballgame, opening up international distribution arrangements (with cable operators),” Bhagia said. “But we now have the possibility to charge them through the internet.”