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Mela Brings Niche Films to Indian American Audience

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Mela now has an app for iPads
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    Imagine seeing a new Indian film on its opening day, on legal home video, subtitled in English, in high definition. Mela, a home video entertainment company based in Santa Clara, Calif., is banking on its hunch that Indian American viewers will try it and become hooked.

    “We’re the first dedicated Bollywood service to stream movies in high-definition,” explained Sab Kanaujia, general manager of Mela, in an e-mail interview with India-West.

    Mela is also the first ever Bollywood service to release new movies worldwide simultaneous with their theatrical releases in India. Among its recent day-and-date releases is “Chaurahen,” an independent film from Rajshree Ojha that stars Soha Ali Khan, Victor Banerjee, Zeenat Aman, and Kiera Chaplin, granddaughter of the silent film superstar Charlie Chaplin. Mela earlier released Puja Jatinder Bedi’s “Ghost” and Sudish Kamath’s “Good Night Good Morning” as a part of an initiative it calls “First Day First Show.” 

    “We’re bringing new movies to the market faster than anyone else. For fans in most places, the only available option is the pirated content with bad video quality. They’re obviously loving our service,” he added.

    Verismo Networks, which is described as a leading provider of complete end-to-end solutions to enable broadband entertainment and video delivery over broadband networks, brought Kanaujia on board in August of 2011 as part of a new business unit focusing on entertainment services. Kanaujia is a media industry veteran with years of experience as vice president for digital product strategy and development at NBC Universal, where he ran its global digital product strategy and development across its television broadcast network, cable TV channels, Hollywood studios and digital properties.

    Kanaujia had earlier launched the Digital Entertainment Corporation of India, a holding company that focused on launching entertainment services to a global audience.

    “The Verismo board hired me to launch and run this service given my background in consumer media. In that regard, I’ve been able to influence the existing thinking and strategy, e.g., we’re now focusing more on Bollywood and more on the multi-platform strategy than previously planned,” he said.

    Working within the Indian American space is a different world than what Kanaujia was used to at NBCU.

    “It is different mainly because it is not mainstream,” he said. “It’s a niche market. You’ve got to reach out to the 2-3 million Indians in a country with 300-million-plus population in a very targeted manner. 

    “Understanding their needs and marketing to them is therefore quite different … because traditional distribution via theaters [or] cable/satellite TV does not work very well for this scattered audience, Internet distribution provides the best opportunity to serve their entertainment needs for their native content. No one has effectively capitalized this market. Piracy is therefore rampant. This presents a great business opportunity.” 

    Since many Indian Americans subscribe to the premium Indian packages on satellite and cable, and many subscribe to Netflix streaming services on top of that, India-West asked what value Mela had to offer and whether it could take their place.

    “Mela is a pure play for the South Asian market. Given its 100 percent commitment to serving the needs of this audience, it will always provide a better value to them. Mela’s current focus is Bollywood and Telugu live TV. In those two content areas, Mela will provide the best value anywhere in the market. 

    “Netflix has maybe [approximately] 100 Bollywood movies for instant streaming. Mela has already licensed over 2,000 movies in over half a dozen Indian languages. We’re aggressively signing more content partners. With the current deals in [the] pipeline, Mela can add another 2,000 movies in nine Indian languages,” he said. In addition, “For Telugu TV, Mela offers the maximum number of live channels compared to anyone else in the U.S.”

    The company declined to state how many Mela subscribers it has, but Kanaujia said, “Early response has been tremendous. They love the quality of the service and the breadth of our movies content.”

    Mela’s tie-ups with leading Indian film companies such as Eros International, Yash Raj and Shemaroo means that viewers have access to a wide range of films including classics like “Sholay,” “Mother India” and “Amar Akbar Anthony,” plus more recent blockbusters like “Band Baaja Baaraat,” “Om Shanti Om” and “Krrish.”

    Currently, Mela can be viewed on Roku and on the Mela iPad app. Plans are in the works to bring Mela to more platforms, said Kanaujia.

    “We want to be where the consumers already are. We’re platform agnostic,” he said.

    “But as a startup, we cannot be on every platform on day one. We’re therefore evaluating our platform priority based on what is most relevant for the South Asian diaspora. Our next big launch will be on the PC. The long-form content consumption behavior on mobile phones is not there, so we won’t be prioritizing phones in the near term. After PC, it will be Internet-connected TVs, streaming players and game consoles,” he told India-West. For more information, visit www.mela.com/tv.

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