By Yohan P Chawla
The game, if anyone wasn’t aware, is afoot in the OTT space, and every platform has been out, brandishing new original content. Netflix literally painted the town red with just one show, and now, Voot has upped its game phenomenally — with not one, two or five original web series, but 18, across languages, each to be creatively supervised by one of its excellent content teams across languages and verticals. Plus, 13 news channels, and an upcoming, first international launch — in the UK market. And available to all this would be amplification across the incomparably massive media network that Network 18 owns across most major platforms of content delivery.
What the announcement of this massive offering will immediately accomplish is: it will cut the clutter. Every OTT platform has a large selection of premium content that is behind a paywall, but they also have large magnets of AVOD content to lure the fence-sitters to explore and hopefully graduate to subscribing.
So there is a great deal of free content too and therefore, greater noise and clutter in the marketplace. This launch of as many as 18 original web series is a surefire way to cut the clutter, rise above the din, and not only be distinctly heard, but thereafter, as I said, also amplified across all the properties of Network 18 which, when it comes to marketing, doesn’t pull many punches.
It also demonstrates, or at least, suggests to the general target consumer, that it is a huge investment in content and, more important, that there’s every kind of interesting genre that Voot offers.
The situation was different a year or two ago, when web-series were a poorer country cousin of TV shows and a form of digital content on which not a lot of investment was being made. However, with the international players like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we now see huge investments in the creation of original content for digital consumption. And this trend has certainly encouraged — or jolted — our very own Indian OTT players to get budget-agnostic and quality- and ‘premium-ness’-conscious.
With the announcement of 18 new multi-lingual shows in a 6-to-9-months timeline, Viacom18’s VOOT too has entered the original content race, aiming to increase the number of its 35-million monthly active users.
The huge cord-cutting happening internationally is already happening in India in a big way – we saw how television viewership of sports drew pretty good swathes of traditional TV viewership to mobile-on-the-go viewing, and one sees VOOT’s launch of 18 pretty diverse and attractive-looking shows with a good cross section of themes as a significant step to stay ahead of that cord-cutting curve and draw the increasingly higher numbers of viewers who consume entertainment video on smart- and even feature phones. It also has the gargantuan Jio universe of captive subscribers and ‘users’ — the best term, in hindsight, for the addictive habit of consuming video on mobile devices.
Also important to note is that VOOT actually set the trend when it demonstrated how an Entertainment broadcaster can use its OTT platform to complement a tentpole show – remember the interactive voting and engagement it drove for shows like BIGG BOSS and Rising Star, for instance. And it’s definitely no coincidence that Voot has launched this arm-ful of shows literally on the eve of Bigg Boss, which is just around the corner.
Strategically, this is an excellent move, because BIGG Boss will not only grow the Voot market by getting more and more new users to download it to interact with and vote on the show, it will also allow Voot to cross-promote the new shows to absolutely the best target audience — Voot users who will hopefully literally buy into the content, provided it resonates with them. Which, going by the fact that it is the various content teams of Viacom18’s entertainment verticals that have creatively supervised these shows, is definitely more likely to happen than not.
On Voot gearing up for its first International foray with its UK launch, which is likely in November this year, Sudhanshu Vats, MD, Viacom18, said, “We really want to go to a market which has got a good representation of India. With a mix of traditional Indian families, in some ways generations and now the younger Indians. UK is a market where we could test our appeal of Indian content with the youth outside of our diaspora. I think UK is a great mix.” Indeed. Though the diaspora numbers are just about under 10 percent of the mainstream audiences in the UK, what’s great is that most of the diaspora audiences are every hungry — and willing to pay — for good Indian content, which Voot will promise, along with massive amounts of catch-up TV too.
Understandably, therefore, as Vats said, “Voot’s UK launch will be completely behind the paywall.” And not just in the UK, but in all the other international markets they go to, Vats said Voot will be behind the paywall. He made a significant point when he said, “You can come in front of the paywall and be on the ad model only if you have the scale.”
That shouldn’t be too uphill a task, because the UK is a market where Viacom18’s television distribution is very strong, considering it has the maximum number of entertainment channels there, including Colors, Colors HD, Rishtey and MTV Beats.”
In India, however, Vats said, “Some of these originals would come ahead of the paywall while the others might go behind the paywall. We are doubling down on original content and then as we go along we will decide what will come where, but as far as the AVOD platform is concerned, these originals will also come onto the AVOD platform after windowing, even if they go behind the paywall.”
To market the new shows, Vats said the network “will follow a classical marketing mix, with the right network support”. He said, “This completely depends on programme to programme — for certain originals, you will see 360 degree marketing; otherwise, digital. And the Viacom18 network support will be there for all.”
What’s reassuring on the quality front is that the experienced and accomplished movie studio Viacom18 Motion Pictures will produce web-series for Voot (under the banner of Tipping Point Films). Diving deeper into the regional markets of India, the Regional Broadcast Entertainment cluster of Viacom18 will be producing Voot Originals in Tamil, Telegu and Kannada.
The 18 new shows are being created by some of stellar names From the film and television industry. Barefoot 11, a sports drama, is being written by Javed Akhtar. Some other memorable things From the line-up: Season 2 of the sometimes controversial Swara Baskar-starrer It’s Not That Simple, is around the corner. PurabKohli and Sumeet Vyas have been cast in it. Q-Ward, a thriller with PrateekBabbar in the lead; Rani Saheb is being produced by TV youth drama maestros Deeya and Tony Singh (remember BanegiApniBaat on Zee?), and already up and streaming on VOOT is the spicy Bollywood chat show Feet Up With The Stars, hosted by Anaita Shroff Adjania.
Joining the dots on the content strategy in a company release, Monika Shergill, Head – Content, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, said, “The digital medium brings us close to the consumer at a very personal level. Owing to the last-mile measurability that the medium provides, our entire content strategy is based on a deep data-backed analysis of the needs and desires of our consumers and their consumption preferences and patterns. Thus our play across a diverse bouquet of genres and languages.”
Some of these shows will be released with an objective of binge-watching, and some in a regular episodic pattern. It isn’t clear if this is a function of banks available, but a mix is always a good approach. Besides, upcoming first and successive episodes of new series can be cross promoted for greater awareness and consumption on shows that are being binge-watched at any time.
With the addition of news on Voot, the platform aims to diversify its content offerings. It will have 16 live channels across 13 languages owned and controlled by the TV18 news network.
VOOT will also strengthen its engagement and user interactivity experience with superior technology adoption and innovation. Adding to the user search experience and facilitating easy discoverability will be the adoption of Google Watch Action, an industry first in APAC for premium OTT players. VOOT’s future-ready platform will also enhance the content experience with the introduction of Dolby Surround Sound for all VOOT Originals.
So, it’s all stations go for VOOT, which will hope to literally ride along commuters along the route to higher content consumption. As Vats put it, “As commuting becomes easier in urban India, there is already a lot of work happening around infrastructure and transportation. I see a lot of commute consumption in India. And a lot of it will be incremental consumption, which is great for content creators.”
It is indeed. While in the end, it could boil down to quality of content and the price points, right now, it seems much more than likely, that with both, exciting — and considerable– new content including the infusion of mutliple news channels, and the collective support and steam of Network 18, Voot should chug ahead of the curve. It has both, the content and the steam.