Tencent in talks to lead funding in India’s Pocket FM

Tencent is in advanced stages of talks to lead an investment round in Gurgaon-headquartered Pocket FM, the latest in the Chinese giant’s push to broaden its consumer internet portfolio in the Indian market.

The Chinese firm, which is already an investor in Pocket FM, is in talks to lead a ~20-25 million round in Pocket FM, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. The proposed term values the three-year-old startup between $75 million to $100 million, two people said. Existing investors Times Internet’s Brand Capital and Lightspeed are also participating in the round.

The round hasn’t closed, so the terms may change. Tencent and Pocket FM declined to comment.

Pocket FM operates an eponymous app that offers users podcasts and audiobooks in English and several Indian languages. On its website, the service says its catalog is over 10,000 hours. The startup works with several creators to produce audiobooks.

The app is available in a freemium model. It has a paid subscription as well as an ad-supported free version.

The investment talks come at a time when a range of Indian startups are beginning to launch in — or expand to — audio category. Indian social network ShareChat, for instance, launched a Clubhouse-like feature earlier this year.

Pocket FM will be Tencent’s latest bet in India’s consumer internet space. The Chinese giant is also a major investor in music streaming service Gaana and on-demand video streaming player MX Player.

Tencent slowed its the pace of investments in India last year after New Delhi amended a rule to require Chinese companies to take its approval before backing Indian firms. It has become more active in recent quarters, investing through debt instead of equity with a convertible note.

#apps, #asia, #funding, #gaana, #india, #lightspeed, #mx-player, #social, #tencent, #times-internet

Netflix to release 41 original Indian shows and movies this year

Netflix said on Wednesday it will roll out 41 Indian films and shows this year, its biggest annual roster of Indian content to date, as the American giant makes further push to win subscribers in the world’s second largest internet market.

The streaming giant, which committed to spending about $420 million on locally produced Indian content in 2019 and 2020, is this year spending significantly more on the new Indian catalog, which is three times larger than the past two years combined.

The new titles feature high-profile Indian actors and directors including Madhuri Dixit, Karan Johar, Manoj Bajpayee, R. Madhavan, Raveena Tandon, Neena Gupta, and Dhanush.

The new roster includes “Bombay Begums,” which follows stories of five women across generations wrestling with desire, ethics, and personal crises, “Decoupled,” a comedy by writer Manu Joseph on India and marriage, and a second season of Emmy-winning drama “Delhi Crime.”

Also in the list are comedy specials that have become immensely popular on streaming services in India. Netflix said comedians including Sumukhi Suresh, Aakaash Gupta, Rahul Dua, and Prashasti Singh — all of whom have participated in comedy shows by Amazon Prime Video — will have shows on the streaming service this year.

Kota Factory, a show that debuted on YouTube about a group of students preparing to compete to get into the prestigious engineering colleges, will premier its second season on Netflix. The Viral Fever, the producer of the show, had collaborated with Indian edtech startup Unacademy, for the first season of the show.

Dice Media’s “Little Things”, which also began its life as native advertisement for a few firms but has since grown into its own show, is getting a fourth season this year.

“Our upcoming lineup features more variety and diversity than we have seen before. From the biggest films and series, to gripping documentaries and reality, and bold comedy formats. We are taking our next big leap in India to bring you more than 40 powerful and irresistible stories from all corners of the country,” said Monika Shergill, Vice President of Content at Netflix India.

“This is just a taste of the films and series to come. We are so excited to share these rich and diverse stories from the best and brightest creators and talent from India to the world,” said Shergill.

R. Madhavan and Surveen Chawla in a still from Netflix’s upcoming show “Decoupled.” (Netflix)

Netflix’s growing catalog in India comes as Bollywood, which churns out more movies than any other film industry, struggles to deliver big hits as theatres across the country report low footfall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the Indian film industry began releasing several movies directly on streaming services after some pushback from several key players.

Karan Johar said at Netflix’s virtual press conference that streaming services are increasingly reaching the level of scale in India that the next “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” — one of the biggest blockbuster films in India, and also one directed by Johar — can release directly on Netflix.

Thanks to the availability of some of the world’s cheapest mobile data and proliferation of low-cost Android smartphones, more than half a billion Indians came online in the past decade, much of it in the last five years.

YouTube reaches more than 450 million internet users in India, TechCrunch reported in January. (India’s IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad corroborated the figure at a press conference last month.) Disney’s Hotstar has amassed over 30 million paying subscribers in India. Media consulting firm MPA estimates that Netflix has about 5 million subscribers in India, a figure that has grown in recent years as the streaming service inked a deal with India’s largest telecom operator Jio Platforms.

Netflix’s growing focus on India also comes at a time when New Delhi is getting more involved with the nature of content on on-demand streaming services. Until now Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services have operated in India without having to worry too much about the nature of their content. But that’s changing, according to new rules announced by India last week.

“The category classification of a content will take into account the potentially offensive impact of a film on matters such as caste, race, gender, religion, disability or sexuality that may arise in a wide range of works, and the classification decision will take account of the strength or impact of their inclusion,” the new rules state.

Amazon issued a rare apology to viewers in India on Tuesday after some people — including lawmakers with governing Bhartiya Janata Party — objected to some scenes from its political mini-series “Tandav.” Netflix, itself, has faced some heat, too. A police case was filed against two top executives of Netflix, including Shergill, after some people objected to scenes of the show “A Suitable Boy.”

#amazon, #amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #disney, #entertainment, #hotstar, #india, #media, #mx-player, #netflix

India sets more stringent rules for social media, streaming services

India announced sweeping changes to its guidelines for social media, on-demand video streaming services, and digital news outlets on Thursday, joining several other nations in posing new challenges for giants such as Facebook and Google that count the nation as its biggest market by users.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT, Law, and Justice minister, said in a press conference that social media companies will be required to acknowledge takedown requests of unlawful content within 24 hours and deliver a complete redressal in within 15 days. In sensitive cases that surround rape or other similar criminal cases, firms will be required to take down the objectionable content within 24 hours.

These firms will also be required to appoint a chief compliance officer, a nodal contact officer, who shall be reachable round the clock, and a resident grievance officer. They will also have to set up a local office in India.

Prasad said social media firms will have to disclose the originator of objectionable content. “We don’t want to know the content, but firms need to be able to tell who was the first person who began spreading misinformation and other objectionable content,” he said. WhatsApp has previously said that it can’t comply with such traceability requests without compromising end-to-end encryption security for every user.

Firms will also be required to publish a monthly compliance report to disclose the number of requests they received and what actions they took. They will also be required to offer a voluntary option to users who wish to verify their accounts.

The guidelines, which replace the law from 2011, go into effect for small firms effective immediately, but bigger services will be provided three months to comply, said Prasad.

New Delhi has put together these guidelines because citizens in India have long requested a “mechanism to address grievances,” said Prasad. India has been working on a law aimed at intermediaries since 2018. You can read the final version of the draft here, courtesy of New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation.

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” he said, adding that WhatsApp had amassed 530 million users, YouTube, 448 million users, Facebook’s marquee service 410 million users, Instagram 210 million users, and Twitter, 175 million users in the country.

Full guidelines for social media firms and other intermediaries. (Source: Indian government.)

For streaming platforms, the rules have outlined a three-tier structure for “observance and adherence to the code.” Until now, on-demand services such as Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, and MX Player have operated in India with little to no censorship.

New Delhi last year said India’s broadcasting ministry, which regulates content on TV, will also be overseeing digital streaming platforms. 17 popular streaming firms including international giants had banded together to devise a self-regulation code. Prakash Javedkar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said in the conference that the proposed solution from the industry wasn’t adequate and there will be an oversight mechanism from the government to ensure full compliance with the code.

Streaming services will also have to attach a content ratings to their titles. “The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”,” the Indian government said.

“The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.”

The new rules will also force digital news outlets to disclose the size of their reach and structure of their ownership.

Industry executives have expressed concerns over the new proposed regulation, saying New Delhi hasn’t consulted them for these changes. IAMAI, a powerful industry body that represents nearly all on-demand streaming services, said it was “dismayed” by the guidelines, and hoped to have a dialogue with the government.

Javedkar and Prasad were asked if there will be any consultation with the industry before these guidelines become law. The ministers said that they had already received enough inputs from the industry.

This is a developing story. Check back for more information…

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India’s broadcasting ministry secures power to regulate streaming services, online content

India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which oversees programs beamed on television and theatres in the country, will now also regulate policies for streaming platforms and digital news outlets in a move that is widely believed to kickstart an era of more frequent and stricter censorship on what online services air.

The new rules (PDF), signed by India’s President Ram Nath Kovind this week, might end the years-long efforts by digital firms to self-regulate their own content to avoid the broader oversight that impacts television channels and theatres and whose programs appeared on those platforms. (Streaming platforms may be permitted to continue to self-regulate and report to I&B, similar to how TV channels follow a programming code and their self-regulatory body works with I&B. But there is no clarity on this currently.)

For instance, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting currently certifies what movies hit the theatres in the country and the scenes they need to clip or alter to receive those certifications. But movies and shows appearing on services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video did not require a certification and had wider tolerance for sensitive subjects.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has previously also ordered local television channels to not air sensitive documentaries.

India’s Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology previously oversaw online streaming services, but it did not enforce any major changes. The ministry also oversees platforms where videos are populated by users.

Officials of India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have previously argued that with proliferation of online platforms in India — there are about 600 million internet users in the country — there needs to be parity between regulations on them and traditional media sources.

“There is definitely a need for a level playing field for all media. But that doesn’t mean we will bring everybody under a heavy regulatory structure. Our government has been focused on ease of doing business and less regulation, but more effective regulation,” said Amit Khare, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, earlier this year.

The move by the world’s second largest internet market is bound to make players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney’s Hotstar, Times Internet’s MX Player, and dozens of other streaming services and web-based news outlets more cautious about what all they choose to stream and publish on their platforms, an executive with one of the top streaming services told TechCrunch, requesting anonymity.

Netflix, which has poured over half a billion dollars in its India business, declined to comment.

Digital news outlets and platforms that cover “current affairs” will now also be overseen by India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Over the years, the Indian government has pressured advertisers and indulged in other practices to shape what several news channels show to their audiences.

Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javdekar is expected to address this week’s announcement in an hour. We will update the story with additional details.

#amazon-prime-video, #apps, #asia, #government, #hotstar, #india, #media, #mx-player, #netflix

TikTok’s rivals in India struggle to cash in on its ban

For years, India has served as the largest open battleground for Silicon Valley and Chinese firms searching for their next billion users.

With more than 400 million WhatsApp users, India is already the largest market for the Facebook-owned service. The social juggernaut’s big blue app also reaches more than 300 million users in the country.

Google is estimated to reach just as many users in India, with YouTube closely rivaling WhatsApp for the most popular smartphone app in the country.

Several major giants from China, like Alibaba and Tencent (which a decade ago shut doors for most foreign firms), also count India as their largest overseas market. At its peak, Alibaba’s UC Web gave Google’s Chrome a run for its money. And then there is TikTok, which also identified India as its biggest market outside of China.

Though the aggressive arrival of foreign firms in India helped accelerate the growth of the local ecosystem, their capital and expertise also created a level of competition that made it too challenging for most Indian firms to claim a slice of their home market.

New Delhi’s ban on 59 Chinese apps on June 30 on the basis of cybersecurity concerns has changed a lot of this.

Indian apps that rarely made an appearance in the top 20 have now flooded the charts. But are these skyrocketing download figures translating to sustaining users?

An industry executive leaked the download, monthly active users, weekly active users and daily active users figures from one of the top mobile insight firms. In this Extra Crunch report, we take a look at the changes New Delhi’s ban has enacted on the world’s second largest smartphone market.

TikTok copycats

Scores of startups in India, including news aggregator DailyHunt, on-demand video streamer MX Player and advertising giant InMobi Group, have launched their short-video format apps in recent months.

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