While the lockdown has been harsh on most business categories, OTT platforms have been in the green. The entire OTT eco-system has seen a major spike in consumption and subscription. At the helm of one very successful Indian OTT platform, ALTBalaji is a media and entertainment veteran, Nachiket Pantvaidya.
Not only does Nachiket Pantvaidya lead ALTBalaji as CEO but is also the COO for other business verticals at Balaji Telefilms. In this Leaderspeak, Pantvaidya spoke about how the platform has been doing and its plans ahead. He credited the growth and success to his teams and discussed how innovation is fostered across all the teams. And yes, ALTBalaji is the first OTT platform to reach profitability. All this and more.
How has your journey at Balaji been so far? How is ALTBalaji performing? When do you plan to break even?
Being associated with Balaji Telefilms for the past five years, my journey has been phenomenal in terms of professional growth as I handle 3 verticals of OTT, Television production and movies.
This time has also seen Balaji Telefilms and its shows display a high sense of innovation and diversity in their programming to emerge as the #1 production house in the TV industry. With Balaji Telefilms being a small-cap company now, we are hoping that we would be a mid-cap company by 2021. Having forayed into the digital space, ALTBalaji posts strong growth numbers as well, with revenues growing at 88%, FY20 Revenue at Rs 77cr vs FY19 Rs 41cr.
Staying at the very forefront of curating clutter-breaking offerings for the masses of the country, ALTBalaji continues to be a leader in the original Hindi SVOD space, the platform as of today has 62 Hindi originals. We hope to be a Rs 150 CR entity by 2021 with at least 100 original shows.
ALTBalaji has been working towards its goals and is the first OTT platform already on the road to profitability. With our costs getting controlled in the first half of fiscal 2020, and the loss margin further reducing at the end of the current fiscal, we are aiming to break even in 2020-2021.
Continuing to grow from a position of strength, we aim to tap the next billion users coming onto the internet by enabling easy and seamless access to the content they want to watch, wherever they want to watch, and whenever they want to watch – at no extra cost to the subscriber.
Wow! ALTBalaji shall be known to become the only profitable OTT platform then.. All the very best for that… my next question is on how ALTBalaji is going to maintain the spike in viewership that it has seen during the lockdown?
The lockdown period has indeed scaled up the OTT content consumption as we have witnessed a surge in viewership as well as the time spent consuming our content across urban and rural cities.
We believe that OTT is a business of unique segmented narratives as well as customer acquisition and retention. While we shall be expanding our library in the months to come with as many as 15-20 launches, there is also a smart scale up of digital marketing activities combined with PR and social media. With the SVOD OTT space in the country becoming increasingly price-sensitive, we have facilitated further growth by keeping our pricing extremely low, at less than a rupee a day (Rs. 300/- annually).
While we may not see the same momentum as during Covid, but we will see many fence-sitters converting to OTT.
ALTBalaji is a classic case of good old segmentation; you have identified your audience and have built a sustainable business model around it… How did you reach there? What were some steps that you took to build the business model you have now?
At ALTBalaji, we are focusing on ensuring that we dominate the Hindi speaking markets and cement our position as a leader in this segment. We believe in creating shows that appeal across genres and segments however with narratives that are unique or untold. Our shows are a healthy mix of thriller, drama, romance, youth drama, horror, comedy amongst others. Each show present on the platform or in the pipeline has been created, keeping in mind the audience’s interest across demographic and sociographic segments that is done by our analytics team.
Our strategy has been different from all our counterparts as far as content creation, partnerships, or marketing are concerned. When we started telco partnerships, we did that with a strategy of ensuring that our content reached the masses with a low distribution and marketing cost and by the time the other players caught up, we exited them to create a co-production deal with Zee5 that will help fuel our library scaleup ambition and direct subscribers addition. Our mindset towards reading the market early on and taking action at the earliest has helped us stay ahead of the industry curve.
ALTBalaji has reported an 88% growth in revenue and a 100% growth in the direct subscription. What do you credit this growth to?
Like I mentioned earlier the OTT Business is an amalgamation of Original stories and customer acquisition and retention. The content, brand, digital, analytics, product and tech team all came together to create exceptional work across all their streams to give us results that have done the talking. The credit for the growth goes to these teams and unique stories that have been the core differentiator for us. While these numbers are a testament to our market position, they do give us all the encouragement we need to further enhance the binge-watching habit of the Bharat audience whom we cater to.
That is so beautifully put across… amalgamation of original content and customer acquisition and retention. Earlier you mentioned about your partnership with ZEE5… how has that turned out? How has it benefitted ALTBalaji? What made you decide on the same and are there any plans to venture into similar associations in the future?
Through our collaboration with ZEE5, we aim towards leveraging each other’s strengths in the OTT domain to co-create original content. This association is a collaborative process of co-understanding consumer insights and co-marketing to serve the viewer better while reaping in increased dividends for both in terms of content library scale-up.
As a veteran in the television industry what is your view of the NTO 2.0 and what can the broadcasters do to overcome the catastrophe?
While the NTO 2.0 comes with its fair share of pros and cons, the industry does feel that the timing of the move could have been better and not lead to more disruption. The pricing of a channel is decided basis the operational cost, and we believe the broadcasters should have the flexibility to decide pricing for the channel without compromising with the content quality. Doing so will help them increase revenue and help them find their feet on the road to recovery in these trying times.
How do you foster and encourage innovation across your teams at Balaji?
Innovation is the mainstay of Balaji Telefilms and ALTBalaji and we encourage across all our departments, be it our marketing, digital, product or content teams. Each of our verticals is completely empowered and responsible to bring forth ideas that excite consumers and ease User Interface and journey. Taking this very thought forward, we’ve displayed the same through our engaging content for the masses in the form of shows with biggest graphics on OTT or award-winning marketing and innovations, therefore creating a name for the app even at global level.
In addition to its strong content library, ALTBalaji has also launched some clutter-breaking and martech innovations. The highlight amongst them being ‘Breast Buffer’ that was aimed towards creating consumer awareness against Breast Cancer and went on to fetch a nomination at the Cannes Lions for the brilliant use of technology. Taking innovation a notch higher, the makers of Ragini MMS Returns 2 introduced an industry-first Stereoscopic 3D 360o VIRTUAL REALITY narrative film.
The specially curated 3D VR narrative from the series presented a surreal and truly immersive experience for its viewers enabling them to virtually step into the world of Ragini. The OTT platform also brought its most acclaimed series Apharan to Alexa, enabling users to listen to dialogues, the trailer, the song, and other exclusive content from this cult show.
ALTBalaji is also working towards strengthening its UI/UX for a seamless experience by focusing on aspects like language interface, voice search, targeted retention strategies, tailored recommendations, quick on-boarding, and convenient payment gateways.
What quest, mission, or purpose drives you every day?
It is a competitive world out there and being in the media and entertainment space, we are always on the go. There is this thirst in me to create successful media business models across verticals, culminating into a media powerhouse. Along with my team, I work towards the mission of taking Balaji Motion pictures, Balaji Telefilms and ALTBalaji to new heights while making it a content destination for the mass audience.
What have been your go-to things in the lockdown to unwind and relax? Things that you did beyond working from home?
Books and music, for me, are great stress busters. Besides that, I do watch web-series as well.