Its 10 pm on a Tuesday in Singapore. Chennai-raised company executive Laxmi Sivakumaran is itching for her favourite Tamil soap. A key moment in Selvi, the current Tamil mega serial, is set to unfold. A house is about to be divided. Its Indian television entertainment at its melodramatic peak. What happens next?
I log on to the Net, chuckles a chatty Sivakumaran. I get online and dont even need to download the episode.
Welcome to watching your pick of the soaps on the Internet. Sivakumaran is one among many users abroad who go online to view soaps theyre addicted to. Portals such as www.idesitv.com, www.muft.tv, www.yupptv.com, www.biggboss2.in.com and Network18s www.in.com have become the go-to zones for Indians abroad whove been longing for a slice of desi masala. I dont have a TV, so the Web is a boon, says Sivakumaran.
In faraway Glasgow, Scotland, Mumbai-born Rajesh Pathak, a catering professional, kept up with all the juice in episodes of Bigg Boss 2 on the shows website www.biggboss2.in.com. Indian TV channels are quite expensive here, so I prefer to view Indian shows online, Pathak says. Sneha Mathur, a Mumbai-born medical student in Austin, Texas, stresses that the web is how she catches up with Indian shows. She left India in the middle of last year but caught Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu This final episodes on www.muft.tv while in the US.
The USP of most of these sites is that viewers can watch their favourite shows without having to download a video clip, courtesy video streaming — a technology that enables you to watch an audiovisual clip online. To view such a clip, you just go to a website and get registered (in most cases for free, though some have charges), click on the language of your choice, move to the TV serial link and get a list of the most recent episodes of your chosen show. Depending on the website, the quality of the clip and the strength of your Internet connection, the streaming begins. Its also an option for those who live in India but have missed an episode of their favourite show.
However, the bulk of these sites resides in a shadowy zone as far as the legality of their uploaded content goes. While there are no figures to establish how many users actually avail of these services, technology and cyber legal experts admit that it is as well-established a phenomenon as downloading films and music from the web.
These websites are culpable under the Information Technology Act of 2000, says cyber affairs lawyer Pavan Duggal. But this law basically takes into consideration e-commerce-related electronic data and information issues. When this law was framed in 2000, few were concerned about matters pertaining to uploading videos of TV channel shows, he says. People can be charged with hacking, or with streaming illegal content or violating copyright. But cases are few and far between as its very difficult to catch portal hosts.
Gagandeep S. Sapra, technology columnist and CEO of System 3 Group, Delhi, adds that users cant be identified unless they are using a credit card for payment. Second, who will share this information with the authorities? The biggest problem is that users dont know whether this is fair play or piracy and hence litigating the user becomes very difficult. The Telegraph technology columnist Tushar Kanwar points out that most of these websites have been put up outside India and under fictitious identities.
Clearly, its not easy for television channels to take action. We routinely put out legal notices to websites to take down content which infringes on our copyright. However, many such websites are very difficult to trace and may be registered in jurisdictions where copyright enforcement is extremely difficult, admits Sameer Rao, senior vice president (strategic planning and commercial) of STAR India.
Giving a fillip to the phenomenon is the fact that video streaming is as easy as uploading a video on a Facebook profile. For the former, the connection is between the users computer and television set, instead of a digital camera and a computer.
To upload TV show episodes, the TV and the computer need to have compatible TV tuner cards. Once the connection is set, and as a serial begins live on TV, it starts getting converted into a video file on the users computer. When the video file is complete and transferred to the PC, the user logs in to any of the websites mentioned where he or she is a registered member and uploads the video. Most users, it appears, upload just for the fun of it — though some websites may hope to make money from advertising if they can capture enough eyeballs.
In the case of websites such as www.biggboss2.in.com, there are daily uploads of the current days episodes. Other websites, including www.yupptv.com and www.idesitv.com, upload serials more irregularly.
To combat unlicensed streaming, STAR hopes to put up its own shows on approved websites. Rao says the channel has entered into licensing deals for their content with several established websites such as www.rajshri.com, www.mypopkorn.com, Bigflix and Eros to show both full length episodes and clips.
Some TV channels, in fact, believe online video streaming can lead to an increased global reach. Were going to see a growing merger between multiple media platforms such as Internet and TV. In a bid to expand our reach abroad, we have tied up with outlets like BigFlix.com to stream some of our programmes so that legally registered viewers can view them, says Gaurav Gandhi, executive vice-president, business operations and content sales, NDTV Imagine.
Sapra stresses that video streaming is on a high. India will soon see this come up in a big way. Were soon going to be in a situation where two years from now youre riding on the Delhi Metro, have high speed Internet available on the train, and then watch TV on your hand held PDA, laptop or cell phone, without having to download — thats the potential of streaming. TV sets are going to have a hard time selling, he says.
The distance between the TV and the PC appears to be collapsing, says Kanwar. Sapra adds there are very exciting days ahead. Laxmi Sivakumaran would raise a toast to that. Selvi is just a click away.