By Yohan PC
The first thing that literally hit me when Archana Anand, Head of Digital for ZEE5, India, entered the room for my detailed LEADERSPEAK chat with her, was a burst of infectious energy. And no, it wasn’t because she was probably on a residual adrenaline drive from the high-powered launch of ZEE5, considering she had surprised me by giving us a lot of her time very soon after the launch of the OTT Platform which has replaced or rather consolidated and immensely grown the combined might of the erstwhile Ozee and DittoTV, and has entered the OTT space in India as what we believe will be the biggest disrupter in the space, coming as it does from the strong ZEEL network.
One knows Archana to be a high-achieving business leader within the Zee Network, and also a strong proponent of responsible self regulation and much more from her uttrances at several high profile panel discussions during the recently concluded FICCI Frames 2018 in Mumbai.
An IIM Bangalore alumnus, Archana is a successful Business Leader with over 21 years of experience, and at present she heads the digital business for ZEE5 in India, having handled the Strategy and P&L for ZEEL’s Digital OTT Business. Read ZEE5 in India, which she has promised herself to help make — with total ZEEL leadership support — ‘the biggest entertainment platform in India’.
Her career journey primarily across the Media and Service space has traversed some of the best known brands like The Taj Group, ANZ Grindlays, Idea, OnMobile and now ZEEL.
Archana, who, as her LinkedIN profile says, ‘has a huge appetite for challenges’, also ‘walks the talk’. She has also been awarded for being an inspirational Woman Leader.
Going by my long interaction with her, that doesn’t surprise me in the least.
Edited excerpts from our conversation
What is Archana Anand, and what does she bring to her role of Head of Digital at ZEEL and ZEE5 India?
I’ve been working for over 20 years across businesses, primarily driving PL and strategy. This has been across roles like Sales, Marketing, Client Relationships, Product etc. I moved here from Bangalore about 3 years ago where I was heading Information and Entertainment Services at Onmobile Global.
I joined ZEE about two years ago and have had the privilege of managing two of their previous OTT platforms dittoTV and OZEE as well as now launching ZEE5. We relaunched ditto TV in 2016 at a really radical price point of Rs. 20, which sent shock waves through the market with people asking us ‘What on earth were you thinking!’
However the call to go with the Rs. 20 price point was far from random; there was a strong and well thought through strategy behind this. And this price point worked superbly for us, enabling us to work very closely with the telcos because the 20-buck sachet price sat beautifully in the telco wallet. Telcos saw great synergies in bundling with us, and it was a clear win-win for both.
What I’ve brought to ZEE, I really think, is tremendous passion. I’ve been supported by a fantastic team, and some really hands on support from the Management. There is a time for everything….and just now the timing is perfect for ZEE to create its next big win with ZEE5
What is your role like? Challenging? Difficult? Inspiring? How do you view the digital landscape and your role at Digital Head at ZEE and ZEE5 ?
It’s an extremely exciting role. I think we’ve launched ZEE5 at a time when multiple things are falling into place beautifully across the ecosystem, like increasing smartphone penetration and affordability, falling data prices coupled with improving Internet penetration and bandwidth speeds, increasing ease of digital payments etc.
Then again, our experience in the OTT space across dittoTV and OZEE have given us tremendous insights into the AVOD and SVOD business, so we’ve come in not as new incumbents who have a steep learning curve ahead of them, but more like war veterans who are well aware of the specifics dynamics of the OTT landscape and know exactly what they have to do.
As the single digital destination of the Group, ZEE5 is backed by the entire might of the ZEE Group, and the focus and support across the Network is fantastic.
Don’t you think the (OTT) marketplace is crowded?
There are a lot of players in the space, yes, the key competition is really within a limited set of players. So however long the list is, at the end of the day, these are the ones that really matter to me. In that respect it’s not really such a crowded market.
What are the advantages of entering the OTT marketplace last of all?
We’re not really entering the OTT marketplace last. We were actually the pioneers of the OTT space when we launched dittoTV in 2012. In fact, we were way ahead of our time. Back then the ecosystem wasn’t quite right — bandwidth was prohibitively expensive and smartphones had not really proliferated like they have today. And being ahead of its time, it was tough going for us then.
So your timing is right?
With ZEE5 now, the timing couldn’t be better. The overall ecosystem is much more conducive to growth with falling mobile data rates and increasing penetration of Internet and smartphones. We’ve had tremendous learnings through dittoTV and OZEE, and both platforms have given us tremendous insights into the specific nuances of the SVOD and AVOD markets and most importantly of the need-gaps that exist among consumers, which have been used extensively to develop ZEE5’s core differentiators.
When our campaign rolls out (we had spoken a fortnight back) I think all of India will see ZEE5 as the go-to destination for language content because what we have is an unrivalled width and depth of multi-genre content across languages, and that’s exactly what audiences are increasingly demanding.
What we have in place is a very differentiated offering for the market, and we know that’s the one with huge uptick and connect.
Everyone has been talking about the great Digital opportunity in India, but it is a fact that DTH services operational for the past 10 years are still in the red, Netflix is bleeding billions of dollars in cash despite the fact that over 50% of US users are subscribed to it. So the OTT space is fraught with challenges, and that is true in India too. First, let’s talk about the challenges in India. What are they?
The common opinion is really that a paid model in India is a huge challenge. This is for multiple reasons. One has to do with the common belief about the Indian mindset – that people aren’t willing to pay for content.
I don’t really buy into that. That they don’t bat an eyelid while shelling out 150 bucks for a movie ticket is a clear indicator that it’s not the ability to pay that’s an issue. We are a movie-crazy country and box office sales haven’t dropped despite the proliferation of theatre screens over the years indicating enough demand. So as a country and as a people, we love that content and we are happy to pay for it.
What I do believe however is that we have just got too used to not paying to watch content online.
So can we change that habit? Surely. If you’re willing to pay to watch a movie, you should be willing to pay to watch content on digital too, and here you’re not getting just one movie, you’re getting over 3500 movies and you can watch them in the comfort of your home or on the go, at your own pace, your own time. So it’s worth paying for! The day enough people appreciate and accept that is the day that the game will change.
So it’s all about a change in attitude…?
Yes. I think that mind-set shift needs to happen, which hasn’t happened yet. Yes, there have been challenges in the past when digital payment modes weren’t so well established and easy to access. I think that the scenario has changed tremendously since demonetization with Paytm and other payment gateways easing things up, and the average consumer has also become used to making payments online. However I still think we have a long way to go.
And now, the opportunities, of which there are many for the OTT space, and that is obvious because ZEE5 has launched, and someone like you is heading it. So first: how is ZEE5 unique and strong as an OTT service for the consumer in India.? What are the opportunities and need-gaps of consumers in India, and how is ZEE5 aiming to come up front?
ZEE5 actually fills a very genuine need-gap in the Indian market. Over 90% of content consumption on the Internet in India is happening in Hindi and other languages, and not in English. We’ve seen this across our platforms too. So the idea is: Can we have a digital destination that really and authentically caters to all these languages, and in the fullest form?
ZEE5 is that platform.
It’s not just movies, regional shows or live TV, or original content or music that are available across languages. ZEE5 goes 360 degrees in terms of offering content in multiple languages across the spectrum of genres. So in that sense we really fulfil a promise of being authentic.
We are also creating some fabulous original content for ZEE5. We will soon be launching a show that the market is already talking about, called Karenjit, which is Sunny Leone’s much awaited biopic. We think that’s going to have a huge appeal across this country. We’re going to show you another side to Sunny Leone which I think would really fascinate the Indian audience when they actually get to see this biopic. We’ve got lots of other interesting original content for the youth also, and it goes across languages.
As another differentiator, we’ve also ensured that global content is available in multiple languages. For example a show like Pablo Escobar can be watched in Tamil or Telugu. Story telling should not be restricted by language, because when a great story is to be told, it should be democratized ie everybody should be able to access it.
Again, it’s not just the content language. ZEE5 also allows users to navigate in the language of their choice, and that is something that really matters to people. For the less tech-savvy or the user seeking convenience, there’s voice search as a key option to help you find the content of your choice by simply speaking the name of the specific movie or show.
So we’ve added these various easy-to-use features to also address an audience that lives outside of the urban markets in smaller towns and cities. Because we really believe that this is the audience that will drive the OTT story in India.
So it all centers around great original and other content and ease of use including navigating in one’s own local language. How is ZEE5 Marketing helping this last entrant — ok, as ZEE5 — in a crowded OTT marketplace to stand up, be seen for its uniqueness, be sampled and be subscribed to?
One of the critical things we did in the early days was to create a brand anthem. The idea of going with an anthem, in fact two versions of the anthem was to create something that goes beyond a regular TV ad, something that could get seeded in popular culture, and really connect with people.
Our brand anthem celebrates a new young India, and Indian who, while being globally exposed and forward thinking, is still tremendously rooted in his or her culture and proud of who he or she is. They flaunt their roots, very cool about the language of their comfort. The anthem song we’ve created is really fun and peppy, and the celebration of languages adds up to some great energy.
We’ve also created a very different version of the anthem for the South (of India) keeping in mind the language authenticity of ZEE5. We know that the South is a completely different market in terms of sensibilities and nuances. So we’ve created an anthem that completely connects with the South market with not one or two but all four South Indian languages. So that’s really what we’ve done in terms of the core of our campaign ‘Apni bhasha mein feel hai’.
From the 1,00,000-hour content shelf spread across originals, movies, music, health and lifestyle and Live TV with over 90 channels, which content arms are you counting on the most? Tell us about your originals plan – how many hours did you being with, and what is your target for originals in Hindi and across languages. Are they working well?
What we are really excited about is our original content and we are going to be more prolific on that than anybody else in the market.
We have a strong lineup of Originals that goes across languages and not just Hindi and English. We have some extremely rich content already in place across – Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali.
We have a fabulous lineup of both long-form and short-form content, all very binge-worthy.
We are very cognizant that this original content is going to cater to new youth audiences with evolving tastes, so we are creating content across genres like thrillers, action etc. that will really catch the fascination of this country.
Apart from this, we’re also acquiring a lot of content purely for digital.
Movies are a key differentiator for us and while we’ve launched with a huge catalogue of over 3500 movies across languages, we will be adding on some exciting titles during the year. You will also see several digital firsts being announced on ZEE5.
It is believed that digital means snacky, shorter content, but the binge viewing on other apps proves that it is the usual escapist content of movies, that is TV and original dramas, that is mostly being consumed, and happily, it is not a battle between TV and OTT, but, as you yourself said at FICCI Frames this year, it is a battle for the consumer’s time and attention.
Do you want to share what, in the very short period of time since ZEE5 launched, have been your learnings on content consumption trends, genres, time spent, day part when consumption is higher… is it linked with commute and travel time… what is it like?
It is still very early days yet. It’s just been a few weeks and our campaign hasn’t started yet. Once our campaign kicks off is when we will really start getting a better sense of consumption trends.
What will the campaign be like?
You’re going to see ZEE5 everywhere — you’ll hear the campaign on the radio, you’re going to see it on television, on digital of course, on social. So it’s very 360 and it’ll be visible to all.
I am not at liberty to go into specific details of our Marketing plans, though, but I can assure you that we are not holding back in any way.
So with so many languages and states you will obviously go out with your original bouquet of content to different places and doing on-ground rollouts…?
Yes, absolutely, this cannot be just an urban market story because while we have got absolutely great content for the urban market, we may be the only ones to have equally great content for smaller, semi urban markets. And therefore it’s critical to ensure that our campaign goes beyond the big cities.
Has your belief in regional content and language content been justified? What is the mix between catch up content and original content on Zee5 so far?
It’s early days to comment on this at this point.
It is the user experience that can make or break an OTT Platform, because with so many choices, nobody wants to keep waiting for the buffering to end, as it were. Tell us about how you have designed ZEE5’s front and back end to ensure a better UI and security for the user.
Overall user experience is critical and has been given the highest priority. We have a multi-CDN strategy in place for ZEE5, which is very critical because whenever a consumer requests for a particular piece of content, it always streams to her/him from the nearest CDN. This minimises buffering, creates greater efficiency and helps drive a more seamless viewing experience, which greatly benefits the end user.
You must have heard of the hacker who exposed how sensitive user data is vulnerable. He shared data from several Indian companies, including an Indian DTH provider. 186 million Indians is the second largest group of citizens in the world who have had to suffer phishing and other attacks and losses due to their sensitive data getting exposed in the last year. How strong are your security protocols for ZEE5? What, specifically, are you doing to prevent any possible similar breach?
We take security very seriously, and have put rigorous checks and balances in place to protect the users data. We keep doing our frequent checks and balances on all aspects, whether it is DRM or all other checks and tests. The consumer is extremely precious to us and we will ensure the sanctity of his data and of our content.
And now, coming to the personal front. What are the values you hold dear? What is non-negotiable?
Integrity, without a doubt. Who I am is non-negotiable and what I stand for is non-negotiable. The values that I hold dear are sacrosanct, and people even tend to say I can be dogged about it. I have an absolute ‘dog with a bone’ kind of attitude about fighting for injustice when I see it around me. In the movie ‘Scent Of A Woman’, there’s a scene where Al Pacino comes and fights for his young friend, and he talks about the choices that people make. And I agree with that. Your choice is worth something only if it’s a hard choice. If it’s easy to stand up for something it’s not worth it. If you’re going to stand up for something and stand to lose something else in the process, then it’s a real choice.
OK, so values in your heart and your mental makeup. How about gadgets in your life? Are you a gadget freak?
Oh I’m not a gadget freak. If I weren’t in a digital company doing what I am doing today. I’d be doing very different soul-stirring stuff like travelling and music and art.