As a content platform, ALTBalaji seems to be a tiny reincarnation of the very creatively entrepreneurial and feisty Ekta Kapoor – in a purely great-content-driven OTT marketplace, it launched 18 original shows in the first year itself, and busted the myth that people like to watch predominantly short-format shows on digital.
TVNEWS4U.COM’s Yohan PC caught up with Manav Sethi, CMO – ALTBalaji, for an in-depth interaction on the OTT space, the first year of ALTBalaji and how it is bridging the need gaps in the OTT space in India. He also speaks of the need for quality shows in the ecosystem in a milieu that has traditionally produced 3-hour movies and 100-episode TV dramas, and questions whether any other OTT platform has produced any really original content.
While he refuses to share their content acquisition plans (‘We are always hungry for ideas and always open to new stories!’), he speaks at length on how digital is the epicenter of ALTBalaji of the marketing stack, which he describes as a powerhouse of tools, technologies and partners.
ALTBalaji has completed a year in the OTT space. What have been your key learnings in the first year of existence? How do you plan to rectify any major faults/mistakes that ALTBalaji might have realized recently?
First year is not easy as they say! The year has been full of learning and joy for us. We were the only platform to have launched 18 shows and the fastest to reach 1 million paid subscribers.
India has been reeling under the notion that Indians don’t pay for content and ALTBalaji has become the First Indian OTT platform to have broken this notion. Indians pay for content only if it is of good quality, individualistic and exclusive. We just wish we could launch more shows and had more marketing monies to spend!
What are the major achievements of ALTBalaji in its first year of business? Numbers. Downloads, active downloads, subscriptions, active subscriptions?
We have over 100 hours of original content and more than 75 hours of kids content. ALTBalaji has over 15 million viewers across web and mobile, around 2 million paid subscribers and are available in over 90 countries.
Apart from the Hindi originals, we have launched two regional shows – a Tamil show ‘Maya Thirrai’, which gained traction from countries like Singapore and a Bengali show ‘Dhimaner Dinkaal’ that received great response from Bangladesh.
In addition to this, ALTBalaji’s diverse library also consists of original shows for kids and short stand-up comedy videos in Marathi, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu languages. Our most recent release ‘Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain’ was most watched by Indians on digital and witnessed a gigantic week by week growth of 300% on the app. We still have our ears to the ground and are mining through data that our analytics throws back at us so that we deploy those learnings to create better consumer experiences.
What are major challenges in the current digital ecosystem with specific reference to the OTT space in India?
The launch of JIO has provided impetus to video consumption. Devices are becoming affordable with every quarter – the consumer needs to pay less for better hardware specs — and coupled with the data push, it’s the perfect recipe for higher video consumption.
India has traditionally been an entertainment-starved country, with only 200 million TV Households in a population of 1.2 billion. While data rates have significantly come down, data infrastructure throughout the country still needs to improve significantly; QOS on data is yet to improve in Tier II & III towns apart from major metros. And obviously, we need more shows.
Also, India never had a formal studio infrastructure to churn out shows at scale. While the demand has exploded because of OTT platforms, the supply side is yet to mature to meet this demand across the entire value chain of writers, producers, directors, and etcetera. From the point of view of show formats, India has traditionally made 3-hour movies or 100-episode TV shows. The need of the hour is a story arc that finishes in 10 episodes of 20 to 30 minutes each while keeping the episodic arc intact so that the viewer is motivated to watch subsequent episodes.
Now coming to opportunities, what are the opportunities you see in the current OTT ecosystem? How does ALTBalaji bridge the need gaps present in the opportunities?
There is wide chasm between Naagin and Narcos. Non-English content has been driven across almost all media vehicles and consumption platforms. Happy to say that ALTBalaji’s focus on Hindi and other languages is competitive advantage and a growth opportunity. Also India is not a homogenous market of 1.2B people. From Avengers to Dangal, we are 1000+ markets of 1M people each and that presents the opportunity to go back to these with stories that have never been told before. And unlike TV, these stories have to be personal (rather confirming to family sensibilities) suited for consumption on personal devices – smartphones.
How many hours of original content across genres has ALTBalaji produced in the last one year? What are your plans for original content in 2018?
We have produced over 150 hours of original content with 20 shows LIVE on the app. We have around 50 concepts in the pipeline, which are at different stages of execution and have also commissioned the season 2 of our most watched show ‘Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain’.
Does ALTBalaji also create snackable content with short time viewing consumers or only concentrate on episodic form of original series? If no, then do you plan to produce snackable content soon?
Recently we launched our second short format #ALTBalajiOriginal titled ‘Galti Se Mis-Tech’, which received overwhelming response. Prior to this we had ‘Pammi Aunty’. In addition to these originals we have launched short, snackable stand-up comedy videos in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu languages. But remember- it’s a misnomer that India only likes short format content. If the stories are good and shows are executed well then there is sufficient data on record that these have fueled consumption.
The consumer nowadays is clearly spoilt for choice in the OTT space. With Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, ZEE5 and others offering original content along with great acquired content, how does a consumer choose, decide and subscribe to an OTT player? How does ALTBalaji convert a free-viewing consumer to a subscribed one?
Who has launched original content thus far!? While others have made announcements, we have launched 20 #ALTBalajiOriginals so far and I guess the volume of the shows speaks for itself.
Secondly, the content that we are creating is clutter-breaking and stands out from what others have to offer. You would see evolution of these platform around niches – Hotstar for Sport, Netflix & Amazon for English premium shows and movies etc. We have a scalable marketing tech stack that resides on analytics and it helps handholding a viewer through his user journey on ALTBalaji. It has led to some phenomenal user retention metrics.
A lot of original content producers are leaning towards brand integration in their content. Do you believe in this? If yes, then how do you integrate the messages?
So far, we have not looked at brand integration. But if in future any of our scripts demands such brand integration which can be incorporated seamlessly, we will think about it. It should be frictionless from the creative point of view.
How do you leverage marketing and technology to drive downloads and subscriptions?
The epicenter of our marketing strategy is “digital” in all forms and functions. From targeting consumer to driving consumption everything that we create is data based and very tightly ROI driven. Our marketing tech stack is a powerhouse of tools, technologies and partners that help us in driving user growth.
Whether its creative (trailer/poster), buzz marketing around talent that works on our shows to acquiring new audiences & retaining these as subscribers, everything is tightly knitted with data. 80% of our total marketing budget is spent on digital and not traditional media.
Which are your major target markets? How do you plan to penetrate those markets?
We feel that the kind of content we are creating appeals to mass India and cuts across urban and non-urban. Our content has various genres — something for everyone. From shows like The Test Cast and Bose: Dead/Alive that cater to the urban audience, to massy shows like Ragini MMS Returns and the very recent Gandii Baat. Our plan is to keep creating content that will cater to audiences across sections of the society. We recently announced a Bhojpuri show Hero Varrdiwala and a suspense thriller Apaharan.
What are the major sources of revenues for ALTBalaji? How do you plan to expand your current revenue streams?
Right now, it is SVOD. We are at a good price-point for now, which is Rs 100 for three months, or slightly over Rs 30 per month. We are very clear about our target base, we are flexible with our price points and most important, we have exclusive original content.
Every OTT Platform is still in the red. What about ALTBalaji? What’s the way forward for ALTBalaji this year? How much time do you give it to break even?
We are the youngest kid on the block and yet we have already launched 20 original shows. One year post launch, of course, we are yet to make profits, but there are other platforms in market for the last 20 years and they are still in red.
The way forward for ALTBalaji is to keep making shows that are loved by people at large. We continue to invest in these shows and consumer experiences.
Of course, a lot of that will depend upon the willingness of more and more Indian consumers to pay for good original content.
People said SVOD won’t work, Indians will not pay for content and that the audience watches only short-format shows. As I said earlier, ALTBalaji has busted all these myths. People are willing to pay for shows if they are of good quality and available exclusively on mobile.