Not very often does David take on Goliath and emerge victorious in the startup ecosystem. But San Francisco-based startup Indee TV did just that.
Founded by Sharan Reddy, Indee, which claims to offer filmmakers the “world's most secure platform for video streaming”, took on internet giant Amazon and forced it to hunker down.
The startup now provides screeners to independent filmmakers and film studios so that they can upload their films securely on to the online platform and be viewed by test audiences, judges, and members of the press.
The client list is impressive, and includes 21st Century Fox, Reliance Entertainment, and – in a strange turn of events – Amazon Prime!
How it all began
Sharan Reddy spent his childhood watching movies at Chennai’s Liberty Theatre, once a landmark for blockbuster cinema. The era of legacy cinema ended as the movie industry moved away from reels and colour labs to digitalisation.
Sharan was then studying computer science engineering at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering. He developed a video streaming application in 2004, as part of his final year project.
After his graduation, he took the product to Chennai-based Sify Technologies, a reputed ICT solutions company. This was the time when Sify was attempting to get into video streaming; the company acquired the product and gave Sharan a job.
In 2011, he moved to San Francisco to work with Deloitte as a consultant; his first account was Disney. The work led him to understand the movie industry in Hollywood closely. He made good friends with a couple of VPs at Disney, and put in place a stable feedback loop before he even started up.
“It was a time when an entire industry was on the verge of a total digital transformation,” Sharan says.
The problem statement
At Deloitte, Sharan noticed that filmmakers were heavily dependent on a metrics-driven approach during the filmmaking process. The age-old tradition of testing the quality of a movie before release involved specific focus groups that watched and gave feedback. However, the cycle was time-consuming and expensive.
Sharan decided to use the internet to solve this problem, and banded together with a friend to bootstrap and start Indee.tv in 2012. He founded the startup in San Francisco, and had development teams in Bengaluru and Chennai.
The online platform was built to help independent filmmakers get feedback from the global audience within 48 hours. The company was officially launched in 2014.
The idea was to bring down feedback costs for filmmakers, but the real challenge was to ensure that the security layer was strong enough to avoid leaks and piracy, given the abundance of pirates on the internet.
“The platform had strong analytics tools to gauge a viewer's reaction and engagement to every frame of the film. This would consequently help filmmakers improve the content and make it better,” Sharan says.
Speaking about the technology, he says there is “obviously no such thing as 100 percent security”, and the platform was multi-layered to ensure maximum protection against piracy.
How Indee works
The startup now helps filmmakers and studios with test, promotional, awards, and press screenings.
Every copy of Indee’s videos is dynamically generated and uniquely customised for the recipient. The security layer ensures that the films and shows are in the “most secure streaming environment online”.
The in-depth analytics help clients understand video engagement patterns that could be critical for commercial success. They keep customers informed about their content’s strengths and vulnerabilities.
Apart from the freemium version on a forever-trial basis, Indee offers two plans under its subscription model. The premium plan is priced at $25 dollars per (film) title, while the high-profile plan is priced at $250 per title.
With a subscription, Indee allows users to upload videos on to the platform, which are then processed with more than 20 security measures, both industry-standard and proprietary to Indee.
After processing, every time the users share videos with anyone, Indee restricts the third party from being able to screen-capture or copy them. The technology also allows Indee to identify the source of a leak to be able to quickly shut the video down.
In 2016, Indee.tv raised $500,000 in seed funding from Kstart, the seed capital arm of Kalaari Capital.
Taking on Amazon
In early 2012, when Indee was in its early stages and the team was working with almost-zero pay, it already had an impressive clientele in Hollywood. Sharan and his team were actively working with various film festivals, including the likes of Cannes and Catalina.
But there was also Without A Box, Amazon's flagship service that allowed filmmakers to submit their work to film festivals. Looking at the traction and attention Indee was getting, Amazon released a tweak in its terms and conditions, asking filmmakers to use only its service or walk away.
Within a day, Sharan lost 90 percent of his clientele, and the startup's future seemed bleak.
But Indee took the fight to Facebook and launched a campaign, “Support Indee, boycott Without A Box”. The war was against Amazon's monopolistic behaviour, and more than 12,000 independent filmmakers stepped forward in support of Indee. Amazon had no choice except to drop its conditions.
A spread on the issue in Hollywood Reporter gave wings to the startup, and news spread across studios in Los Angeles rapidly. Without A Box removed the offending clause from its contract, and Indee’s customers returned to its fold.
What comes next?
Indee.tv has more than 400 clients in the bag, including 21st Century Fox, A24, Millennium Films, Reliance Entertainment, Epic Pictures, and CBS. Interestingly, Amazon Prime is also now a client.
Sharan says the startup has upped its revenue numbers by 500 percent in the last 12 months, and has now reached profitability.
“A few competitors would be Deluxe, Technicolor, Screeners.com, pix.online and our own home-grown options. We recently acquired all the clients of screener.ly, one of our competitors.”
According to Allied Market Research, the global market for online video platforms was $218 million in 2016, and is projected to reach $915 million by 2025, at a CAGR of 17.5 percent.
Indee has a lean operating team with 13 members, most of them in sales and product divisions. The time has now come to ramp up the sales aspect, Sharan says.
The bigger ambition for Indee TV is to take it mainstream with the support of bigger studios and feature even bigger content as an online distribution channel.
Indee’s online market research test screeners claim it offers the most in-depth performance analysis of films and TV shows, but the fact remains that the majority of the startup’s user base is in the US.
Considering the nascent nature of the market in India for independent filmmakers and the lack of awareness surrounding film festival screenings, the startup hasn’t tested the waters here. Yet.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)