Does Blocking A Content App Restrict Innovation? We Think It Does.

When we launched “Filmi Filmy”, our app to bring Hindi film song videos from YouTube into a curated experience last year on iOS platform, our hunch about the latent user demand for such an app was proven immediately. We raked up 30,000 downloads in a month and were rated as the #1 new music app in India and #1 music app in Pakistan. The usage stats were awesome, 50% plus repeat visitors and over 8 minutes engagement per session. Indian diaspora from all over the world were searching, playing and enjoying the new found ability to search for Hindi film songs phonetically and enjoy clutter free viewing experience.

At Pariksha, we felt very energetic and enthusiastic. We had demonstrated that a) there was appetite for a Hindi film videos app b) users prefer the high success rate of phonetic search and c) users want convenience and simplicity and not irrelevant choices and having to make endless decisions.

With this in mind we invested further into the product. To expand our reach, we started working on an Android version and even a Windows mobile version of the app. To experiment with business models, we built an in-app purchase mechanism to allow users to save and share playlists. We would allow users to buy credit points and use that to store upto 10 songs in a playlist. Saved playlists could be retrieved from any device and could be forwarded to a friend/family member. If you wanted to impress your girl-friend and praise her eyes, you could send her a playlist with your favorite “nayan” or “nain” or “naina” songs! Playlist could be used to express feelings – just like emoticons. It was an innovation experiment to see if playlist curation could be monetized.

The launch of “Filmi Filmy” on android was very successful. We had 5000 downloads within a week. However, what happened next was a huge dampener. Google blocked the app without any specific reason, claiming we had violated some terms of usage. We requested to know the specific violations and were ready to revise the app to comply with terms of use but in Google land, one deals with an automated system that churns out standard responses with no intelligence to interact with. We were well and truly stumped and out of the largest opportunity – the great Indian android market. We were bumped off the Play Store and facing a huge loss of investment and opportunity.

Interestingly, Google did not complain to Apple Store about the iOS app. It seemed that they were using their control over Play Store to block the Android app but were not sure about the infringement themselves to worry about taking it up on Apple Store.

The block forced us to revisit our strategy. We pulled back promotions and slowed development to try and figure out a new approach. I even tried to approach YouTube team for a potential partnership – after all, we had innovated a new way to use the video content and who best to take an innovation to the masses than a big partner. No luck here too, YouTube is happy to partner if you are a content owner but if you have better ideas than them on using the content, they don’t want to know about it.

Over the next 6 months, we let the iOS app move on its own steam. We were happy to see regular download volume, consistently high engagement metrics and a fairly regular in-app purchase behavior.

We feel that blocking our app on Android restricted our ability to test the key innovations in the large Indian market. It damaged our ability to establish playlist sharing as another “eMoji” type and restricted users from getting access to a simpler, cleaner way to see Hindi film song videos.

It also restricted YouTube’s own ability to monetize its assets. If more people used “Filmi Filmy” and we could work out a partnership to share in the monetization, everybody would benefit. Blocking the app was a loose-loose proposition while it could have been a win-win deal.

But does anyone at Google/ YouTube care? Will they care?

(Check out “Filmi Filmy” and its innovations. Download the app on iOS and Windows and let us know if you agree it provides a better experience for Hindi film song videos than any other music app out there)

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