I expect at least two major metros, Mumbai and Delhi, will show significant uptake in Internet access on the cable network as well as wireless broadband. Also, 4G rollout will be a major driver for 2012.
Even as broadband 4G rolls out, data consumption over cable is (already) increasing. In the cable broadband business, there's a lot of focus on providing Internet broadband services to consumers. So, either through wireless systems or wired ones, people will get broadband access. For the next few years, we may have to deal with expensive wireless broadband in India because there will be capacity constraints. Wired broadband will be much more economical.
There is a lot of money and value in providing broadband and, as most telecom players worldwide have discovered, there is limitless demand for bandwidth. As you give consumers more bandwidth, demand keeps going up. India has been suffering on the supply side because of broadband infrastructure — both on the wired side and equally on the wireless side.
The consumer is so starved of bandwidth that supply will determine demand rather than the other way round. The first benefit that accrues with access and infrastructure being built is that current content will be cleared. The second stage is where existing content will get a chance to be available to consumers on demand. And lastly, going ahead, you'll have interactive content as well.
There are a few issues that are going to play out in India. We've been lacking infrastructure and several players have come in and added infrastructure. Many people have burnt their hands thinking broadband infrastructure would've come in by now.
My sense is, when you have broadband, you see everything is moving to the cloud. The fact is, both on the audio/visual side and the Internet side, supply has been bottled up because of infrastructure. The moment you open that up, the consumer will get used to it and will pay when he gets reliable service.
YouTube has shown that there is a huge latent demand in the country for audio/visual content and consumers are willing to suffer slow access but still consume whole videos. My sense is YouTube and other aggregators will be making the moves in the front when they try and license mainstream content. It also must be remembered that consumers are programmed to pay for mainstream content and not all of us are willing to pay for wireless or customised content. All these players will now try and aggregate mainstream content.
With broadband penetration increasing, media companies will get one more outlet for their content, and the ability to get some value for their (archives). When the presence of smartphones and tablets increases, they will be able to offer customised content as well as 'expand' the life of the mainstream content. One can see this on the Internet; shows are becoming bigger because of their availability on multiple platforms.
Haresh Chawla is the outgoing CEO of Viacom18 Group and Network18 Group. Under him, both have increased their reach to more than 300 million homes across television, print, films, mobile and the Internet.
(As told to Bharat Bhagnani)