Streaming on tap

November 11, 2018

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A former quant trader, Yassir Pasha, taps into the TV streaming business.
A former quant trader, Yassir Pasha, taps into the TV streaming business.

How often does it happen that you have to watch Pakistan play and by the time you find a stream that works, both the openers are gone? Okay, let’s not open those wounds. But what if there was one website you could conveniently stream all our batting collapses on? Sounds like a dream for all of us self-hating cricket lovers, no?

Tapmad.tv is a Karachi-based startup that wants to be your online television. Think of it as a Pakistani Hotstar, a streaming platform where you can watch both live TV as well as on-demand shows/movies. Currently Tapmad has thousands of show/drama episodes and tons of movies a month from 70 local and 30 international channels. From 1970’s classics on Filmazia to live telecast of Indian Premier League, the startup wants to do it all.

They have a freemium business model: some basic free to use content for non-paying users plus exclusive stuff for subscribers. Also, part of their revenue comes from online ads. “Currently we are generating more than half our income through subscription, while the remaining is sourced through ads,” says CEO Yassir Pasha.

Given the subscription-based model, it was obviously essential that there be recursive payments for Tapmad to succeed. But given the limited number of bank card holders, it was a huge challenge. To find way around that bottleneck, Pasha along with Salim Karim, co-founded Simpaisa, a sim-based payment solution as the name suggests.

What it basically does is that it directly deducts the weekly payment for Tapmad from your mobile balance. So no need to have a debit card; all you need is enough credit in your sim.

Currently Simpaisa is partnered with all telcos except for Ufone and has moved on from being just a payment gateway for Tampad to a broad-based solution carving its own identity.

The initial money was put in by Pasha and family, while pre-series A came from Planet N, a Karachi-based holding company. And recently, Tapmad closed its first round funding, raising $2.5 million from MBC – the Saud family-owned Middle Eastern media giant — and Daman Investments, a UAE-based financial firm of Gargash Group.

Pasha expects the money to buy Tapmad around 18 months, and would be using it to aggressively go for content and customer acquisition. “We hadn’t marketed ourselves much, except for a certain niche but now that we have funds, we will be accelerating very fast, in terms of our content, user base and even the team,” he says.

In fact, just recently the startup signed a contract with Eros Now – the Indian entertainment network — for exclusive content rights plus a deal with English Premier League to telecast live matches in Pakistan. Double fun for Pakistan cricket and Manchester United fans.

Yassir was a quant trader working in hedge fund and invest banking before coming to Pakistan, and venturing into a whole different arena. How exactly does he hope to make his way in a different setting? It’s not as new as one would imagine: his dad, Javaid Pasha, is an industry veteran who set up FM 100 radio station and TV Asia in UK. “He has a lot of connections with major channels like Zee which helps us secure exclusive contracts,” the CEO says.

Lately there has been some interest in this industry with iflix and Netflix – with their foreign capital – trying to mark their presence in the Pakistan, in part thanks to their deals with PTCL. And then there’s the home-grown Goonj.pk which is trying to do something very similar to Tapmad. How does the company plan to consolidate its position then?

“Netflix has its own niche: those who can afford to pay $10 a month and watch pretty much just the English content while iflix is simply a replica, but slightly cheaper and Goonj has just the local stuff. We, on the other hand, have a mix of Pakistani, Indian and other content so it’s more wholesome and relevant to the local market,” Pasha says.

Forget the industry rivals though. Perhaps the biggest competition for Pasha is online piracy or the individual media houses which put up their own content online for free. Then why would the consumer bother to pay in the first place? “There are two things to consider here: it’s hard to counter piracy in on-demand TV since you can always postpone watching by one hour or one day, it won’t make much of a difference. That’s why we have also focused on live TV as well; you can’t really put off watching a tournament final, can you?” he says.

“Then now even in on-demand, with growing crackdowns on pirated content, it is getting hard to find the right stream so some users might eventually say ‘to heck with it, I will pay a bit and watch in peace’,” he adds. And that is why he is pricing the subscription at only Rs15 a week for now.

Pasha is aiming to make Tapmad the largest Pakistani streaming platform but does the digital wave at home has enough ripple? Let’s buffer the video to find out!

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2018