This February, the Indian Railways switched on video-on-demand services on two trains running between Delhi and cities in Rajasthan. It was a first for railways in India, where otherwise the most entertaining options are limited to a cheap paperback from Higgin Bothams Railway Minister or ‘timepass’ snacks.
PressPlay TV, the company that enabled the service, hopes to have the service rolling on over 30 trains by year-end. In fact, the company already does this on many intercity buses and has 3,000 hotspots running across the country. Co-founder and COO George Abraham says there will be 10,000 of these in a few months from now.
In a chat with IndianExpress.com, Abraham explains that his technology is primarily the box, “double the height of a set-top-box”, which stores content locally and lets users connect using the PressPlay app to stream the content at superfast speeds. “Our goal is to bring the airline experience of in-flight entertainment to other modes of transport, but using the smartphone to create that personalised entertainment solution,” he adds.
So how does the technology work? The box stores the content and also houses the router. The same box is used for busses and trains, but with the latter range as well as a number of concurrent users is increased. Still trains need one server per coach to ensure smooth performance, Abraham says, reminding us that the box is “completely made in India”. The content is refreshed once in 30 to 45 days and there are people on the ground who check on the device once in three or four days, explains Abraham.
“To make the content relevant, the focus is on making it highly localised with a good mix of long form as well as short form,” Abraham says, adding that they have a good mix of languages too.
PressPlay TV has an ad-funded model for now and Abraham says they make enough to cover the costs. He is more happy about the user acquisitions for the OTT app. “The great strategy for us is that we are acquiring new users every single day on the bus or train and without spending on marketing.” Over time, he plans to add premium content that can be charged for. For now, most of the content is sourced free and that lets PressPlay TV stay viable.
“The railways views it as a new initiatives programme. We are evolving as well. We have been given timeframes to evolve and come up with a revenue model,” he adds. Being a trendsetter is a bit of an issue, for PressPlay TV “doesn’t have someone to emulate or copy”. “That is the good as well as bad as we have no benchmarks to follow.”