Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Facebook Pilots Offline Video for India in Duel With YouTube

Facebook Inc. is piloting a feature in India allowing users to save videos to watch offline, chasing a similar program from Google’s YouTube, as the companies attempt to crack a market ridden with poor internet connectivity.

The move followed feedback from users in the country citing poor video experiences because of limited mobile coverage, Facebook said in a statement.

“We’re testing an option for people to download videos to Facebook while they’re online on good internet connections, to view the video at anytime, online or offline, without using extra mobile data,” the company said.

YouTube introduced offline video in 2014 to cater to Indians crazy about watching Bollywood song sequences, cricket snippets and comedy sketches. Despite the cost of downloads, an estimated 40 percent of data consumption on phone networks is video, said Nikhil Pahwa, editor of the New Delhi-based Medianama.com, which monitors news on the digital industry.

“This will only keep going up,” he said. “Video is the format of the future in a country where people devour videos everywhere - at work, on the streets and in their homes; it offers the next big revenue opportunity for platforms like Google and Facebook.”

Facebook, which has 142 million users in India, said the new feature helps users get through the lag between downloading and playing a video by saving it for later, similar to the YouTube feature.

Only original videos posted on personal Facebook accounts and on the social network’s pages can be downloaded. The program is being tested on a small percentage of Indian users, the company said without providing details on broader rollout.

In India, both Google and Facebook have rolled out a slew of features and programs to capture new users as growth flattens in developed countries.

Google offers free Wi-Fi in the country’s largest train stations as well as offline maps. Facebook launched a stripped-down version of its app last year although its controversial Free Basics program that offers limited internet access was banned for flouting the principles of net neutrality.

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