What is the most important entertainment screen in our lives? Well, most of us would say it is the smartphone or the television, but there is another screen that could get really important, really fast. As commute in countries like India become longer, the screen inside your car will become more important. In fact, for ride-share company Ola an average trip is already 55 minutes long. As companies around the world try to figure out the autonomous car, the screen for the passenger will become a more common phenomena and trigger a big change in the way the experience inside evolves.
This is the opportunity Ola is trying to tap into with Ola Play, which seems to be the start of something really big and unprecedented. “An average ride for us is about 55 minutes. Now, look at that as a two-way commute to and from work and you are spending close to two hours inside an Ola cab every day. That is more than TV,” Ankit Jain, vice-president and head of Ola Play explains.
In fact, the in-car experience has pretty much revolved around the driver and has been anything but customisable. However, things are changing with the advent of autonomous cars and that will change the experience of the drive for the everyone in the vehicle. But Ola is not waiting for that revolution to happen and is cashing in the opportunity that has already presented itself.
Ola Play is the first step towards creating a monolithic ecosystem of content with module elements that will present advertising opportunities and driver experiences. “The innovation in this space has always been outside the car. Inside, the experience has not been programmable and this has only led to friction,” Jain says on the sidelines of the CES in Las Vegas where Ola is showcasing its technology. Ola’s partnership with Microsoft for instance, will help passengers improve their productivity by accessing the MS Office suite on car screens. “For now the continuity is primarily because of Wi-Fi access. But this will change in a few months,” Jain clarifies.
With a passenger pretty much being captive inside the car for a few hours everyday, Ola hopes to offer them content that is both relevant and contextual. “We know that the mood he goes to office in the morning will be different to when he is heading out for a night out with friends later in the evening. The content does not have to be the same for both occasions,” Jain says, adding that the thinking is how to pass the in-car experience to the back seat, making this screen an extension of the living room.
Ola Play is now open for partners, who want to develop apps that integrate with this platform to deliver their content in a relevant manner. “In fact, whatever the car, you will be logged in to all the apps as soon as the system recognises the user.”
This also means the same context can be used to serve advertisements like never before. Jain says what this offers is a never before seen mix of online and offline behaviour. “We could tease a billboard on the way or keep showing content from it even after the billboard has been passed. If a passenger is going to a specific location we can give him offers that incentivise a visit to a partner,” he says, adding that this has already been tried out on a pilot basis. “There are two filters here. Target filtering for the advertiser and relevance filter for the customer,” he says, adding that the effort will always be to ensure a good experience for the user and there will be no ads which are not relevant to the passenger.
While Ola is already in the process of rolling out Ola Play to more vehicles, it has started retrofitting cars with the new hardware. This also means the platform is able to improve the experience for the driver or owner of the car as well. “It can give access to the car health and offer predictive maintenance while also logging drive behaviour. All this data helps elongate the life of the car and improve the performance,” says Jain.
Ola has over 800,000 cars in its service catering to 110 cities across India. With over 900,000 drivers registered, Ola thinks it could be one of the largest employment generators in India after the railways and armed forces.
Given that Ola Money already enables payments on the platform, Jain thinks Ola Play is already an end-to-end solution, which has so much potential for the future. “While we have already created Ola Play from a ride sharing perspective, we are already getting interest from OEMs who want to take it beyond what we have done. We have ended up solving a problem for the power user, which is the ride sharing driver, and can now take it to a broader level,” he says.
Jain accepts the platform concept could be a great product in itself for other ride sharing companies as well. “There is a lot of interest. But with just 50,000 cars in our fleet covered at the moment there is so much scope to grow within Ola itself. Our effort this year will be towards completing that.”
Disclaimer: The author is at CES 2018 on the invite of Intel