MiShorts signs groundbreaking short film deal with India's leading mobile carrier
The late actor Richard Harris, famous for films such as This Sporting Life, A Man Called Horse and the Harry Potter series, is known the world over.
Now another Richard Harris is making a name for himself in films – but in a rather more compact way. His video-on-demand company MiShorts, based in Brighton, has broken into the Indian and South Asia market – with a potential audience of 130 million viewers – and the next step could be Brazil.
A deal has been struck with mobile phone network provider Vodafone Essar to supply short films to their South Asian mobile network. The content will be available for viewing mainly on smartphones and other mobile devices, the demand for which is increasing at a very fast rate.
“The agreement is for an initial 12 months, with an option to renew,” explains Richard, CEO of MiShorts. “Vodafone Essar is a highly regarded carrier in India, with a forward-looking image and an excellent demographic for VoD. Their content head is even an ex-film student and loves our films!”
“Originally, we thought we would have to set up a MiShorts-style site on behalf of the carrier for their subscribers to access our films, but this wasn’t needed as they preferred to do this themselves. This is an ideal arrangement for us, and we expect this model will work in other emerging markets.”
MiShorts was created as a paid-for download service devoted to short films and to promoting the work of independent film makers with an online library that is updated daily with films from UK and international sources to watch online or download to everything from mobile devices to HD TVs.
The company was close to going out of business a few years ago, but can now look to expand – and a lot of the credit must go to UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).
In 2009, Richard saw details of a UKTI-supported group visit to FICCI Frames, India’s leading media and entertainment industry exhibition, which takes place every year in Mumbai. He joined the group, received £1,800 to cover his costs under UKTI’s Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP), and was put in touch with Teri Carnegie, an international trade adviser with UKTI South East.
“At that time,” Richard recalls, “the business was very much UK-focused. I wasn’t looking at India, or any other overseas markets, but the subsidised visit to Frames not only opened my eyes to the opportunities there – it made me realise there was a whole world of customers potentially interested in what MiShorts had to offer.”
In India, Richard saw a huge potential market for a VoD service delivering content via the country’s rapidly expanding mobile phone network, specifically the new 3G services that were about to be launched. This was something virtually unknown to most Indian consumers up to that point.
Teri Carnegie had signed MiShorts up to UKTI’s Passport to Export programme of advice and support for new and inexperienced exporters, enabling Richard to take part in another supported visit to the next Frames conference in March 2010.
The breakthrough came when, in October of that year, he commissioned a report on the Indian market from UKTI staff in Mumbai through the Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS). He soon followed this up with a visit to meet key contacts identified in the report.
“The OMIS report was invaluable,” says Richard. “This is where UKTI really adds value, as a business facilitator. I know my business pretty well, but what UKTI have is knowledge of the market and expertise on the ground. The quality and relevance of the contacts and meetings they arranged for me were first rate: I met the right people, at the right level, in major telecoms companies and distribution partners.”
Technical specification tests were recently completed to ensure that MiShorts content is in a compatible format to be “ingested” by the Vodafone content management system.
MiShorts has now graduated to UKTI’s Gateway to Global Growth programme of support for more experienced exporters. On the back of another OMIS report, Richard visited Singapore last year, where he met marketing and content people with that country’s leading carriers and is now in discussion with two of them about providing short film content for their 3G and IPTC services, on the same basis as in India.
“The Singapore OMIS worked just as well for us as the Indian one, enabling me to meet senior decision-makers in the relevant departments,” says Richard.
“Basically, that first trip to India, and everything that has followed, has been the saviour of MiShorts. On its own, the UK simply couldn’t sustain our paid-for download business model, and we would have had to close. But now, as we steadily extend our business into VoD markets in a variety of emerging economies, we are ahead of the curve.
“I can't thank our ITA, Teri Carnegie, and other UKTI staff in the UK and India, enough for the truly invaluable help they have given me during the past two years. I couldn't have done it without them.”
Next stop is Brazil, with a visit planned for the end of the year. “The VoD export model we’ve developed seems to work, so we will be following it again,” Richard concludes. “A market visit, backed up by an OMIS to set up meetings with top telcos and ultimately, we hope, sign more deals.”