Spuul Brings Bollywood Movies to the Masses

Spuul, a new video streaming site and Singapore-based startup, has officially launched. The site specializes in Indian film, bringing Bollywood and other titles to viewers’ browsers, using a tripartite subscription plan that offers free films, some all-you can-eat content for $4.99 per month, and premium movies rentable on a single viewing video-on-demand basis.

According to Spuul Chief Product Officer Michael Smith, the three-pronged approach is designed to help the startup put as much content in front of as many viewers as possible. “Largely these pricing models are experimental,” he said in an interview. “We were trying to price things knowing what people pay to go to the theater in India, along with VOD prices around the world, to make it easy and accessible for people regardless of bandwidth concerns to watch no matter where they are.”

In keeping with that strategy, Smith expects that between 50 and 70 percent of  Spuul’s content is and will continue to be free, since the site’s first goal is to make available high-quality Indian video media to viewers globally. Then another chunk of films will be available to premium subscribers who pay $4.99 per month, and finally a tier of what Smith calls “super-premium” content, including films just out of theaters, will be sold on a VOD basis, for $0.99 per rental. Keeping in mind that much of their audience won’t necessarily be in areas with the best internet connectivity, Smit says Spuul has created a sophisticated algorithm that detects things like available bandwidth, device type and screen sizes, and delivers content accordingly.

“Because we offer mobile capability, and we offer desktop, and we’re going to be working on connected TVs, we basically span from very low-end capacity all the way up to a rendition that’s just under HD quality,” he told us. The iOS apps are in the works, according to Smith, with a tentative release date coming up sometime in the next few weeks, and Spuul is already working with the developer kits put out by smart TV and streaming set-top device manufacturers, including Roku and Samsung. The ultimate goal is to make sure Spuul is available wherever people want to watch it.

Spuul is also trying to appeal to the widest possible audience by launching internationally right out of the gate, rather than opting for a staged geographic roll-out like Netflix. To achieve this, they’ve made different content available to users depending on their location. So, while some content might not be available to viewers in Canada, for instance, based on the licensing requirements of movie publishers and studios, plenty of other stuff still will.

When asked about whether Spuul is worried about potential competitors like Netflix deciding to bolster their niche market content offerings, and maybe becoming more attractive to fans of Indian movies that way, Smith pointed to Spuul’s unique pricing model as a key competitive differentiator. “The difference would be that with Netflix you have to agree to a subscription, by taking out your credit card and agreeing to be re-charged,” he said. By contrast, users have a greater degree of flexibility with Spuul in terms of what and how much they want to pay.

It’s also not very likely that Netflix, or something like Hulu Plus, which is maybe more similar to Spuul in terms of its pricing model, will ever target niche programming in as complete a way. Spuul isn’t the only one realizing that serving specific types of video viewers could be a lucrative way of making a name in streaming video; Drama Fever recently launched to deliver a similar service for fans of the super-popular Korean Drama genre.

Spuul’s model is young and untested, but it’s offering content dedicated fans around the world are highly motivated to see, and would have trouble viewing elsewhere. There’s always piracy to compete with too, but Smith is right to say that that’s inevitable in the space where Spuul operates. He hopes convenience, unique pricing and multi-platform support will help Spuul become the legitimate go-to online source for Indian movie fans.

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