When Sai Kiran Rathan used to browse streaming sites based on what to watch next, he did not realise how much time was getting wasted after a long day at work. One evening, last August , he saw a full 90 minutes go by in a flash, and called up his old friend Sai Kiran Alagundula to crib about his situation. The two had met in 2011 during the Microsoft Student Partner (MSP) programme, and kept in touch ever since so they became each other’s sounding boards for ideating.
“The [aforementioned] situation might seem mundane to many,” Rathan avers, “But time is precious and who wouldn’t want to watch something just right for them? So we came together to form AwesomeLabs and started brainstorming how to go about this problem, which we knew many people were experiencing.”
Now based in Hyderabad, Rathan and Alagundula came up with BingeIt, a multi-device app, which leverages Artificial Intelligence to help users discover aggregated OTT content, while also building peer-to-peer recommendations. BingeIt also doubles as a social platform to connect friends and family who share similar interests.
By September, they had the initial prototype. The next three months, however picked up more pace with a beta stage including a closed group of testers. According to Rathan, developing the app took a few weeks longer than the duo’s goal timeline. “We had aimed for a Deepavali launch date to coincide with the holiday season, but things didn’t work out. With some last-minute coding, we readied ourselves for a January 2 launch date with Apple and Android compatibility.”
Rathan undertakes the innovation and development side of BingeIt, while Alagundula oversees the business and marketing aspects.
Present and future
The app, like most entertainment apps as of late, has a minimal two-tone aesthetic with a clutter-free user experience. There are currently six main sections including a static home page where recommendations show up on an infinite scroll screen. A section titled ‘Top Recommendations’ is divided into ‘My Circle’ and ‘Global’, the former changing its content depending on who you have in your friends list and the latter updating when new content is released across various streaming platforms.
So how is this different from, say, the ratings recommendations on Netflix? Rathan explains that these recommendations come from your friends, and people you may or may not know. It goes both ways; there is also the contrary situation where someone with ‘not so great’ taste in entertainment can prove something might not be to your liking. “The current user base for BingeIt is around 1,000 users, and 50 to 60 daily active users. We started seeing a lot of traction lately and adding new users every day. We haven’t done any full scale activity yet, so the user base is purely organic and/or referred users.”
Rathan says that current users are spread across India and the US. “This was really helpful in testing. For example, we have Rick and Morty on Netflix in India, but the licensing model for Netflix USA does not have the show. So if I were to recommend this show to my friend there, it would not have the same streaming logo badges for them. That is one development I have been really particular about perfecting,” elaborates Rathan.
The social side of BingeIt allows users to create interest-based groups to organically (in some way) share movie or series picks. “This is still helping people stay in touch,” says Rathan, “and while we do have a strong AI, there’s nothing quite like having that trusted recommendation from someone you know, which is the core spirit of our app.” Each recommendation comes with the streaming logo badge (for Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime) as per their availabilities. “We are looking forward to include more streaming platforms which the country keeps creating.”
There are quite a few features in the future of BingeIt, says Rathan. “We want to appeal to discerning cinema buffs, so we would like to have crew-specific projects come up; for example, films featuring cinematography by Roger Deakins. Right now, we can show recommendations by actor.”
It does not have in-app paid features yet, which Alagundula says could change in the near future. “Right now, we are focussed on user aggregation and seeing how people respond to our app.” Though the app is currently available on smartphones and iPads, AwesomeLabs want to bring a smart-TV compatibility to make streaming smoother. “We have so many other developments in the pipeline,” says Alagundula excitedly. “This is just the beginning.”
(BingeIt by AwesomeLabs is available for free on both the App Store (Apple) and on Google Play (Android).Works on iOS 10.0.5+, Android Kitkat and above.)
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