GREAT CONTENT AND CONVENIENCE BREAK THE SHACKLES OF APPOINTMENT VIEWING: ARUN UNNI in STRAIGHTTALK
By Yohan PC
The smiling, understated ArunUnni, Chief Content Officer – TATA Sky, has one of the rarest of profiles in the Indian Media & Entertainment industry.
We hear of corporates extolling the virtues of bringing in a world view by hiring people from verticals and even industries unrelated to the Media & Entertainment space, but haven’t seen many such C-Suite hires. Which is why ArunUnni’s is a rare C-Suite profile.
Consider: Unniworked with A.T. Kearney and KPMG as a Management Consultant, developing go-to-market strategies and driving operational efficiencies for many large industrial and consumer companies. He’s a techie at heart, an IIT-Bombay graduate and a Post graduate from IIMAhmedabad, and he’s heading the entire portfolio encompassed in that one word that is, indeed, the entire core business of a Media & Entertainment company: ‘content’. And going by the various initiatives he has taken, with the latest being bringing in some exquisitely handpicked content to offer through the WorldScreen series — the concept of which he first tried and tested a year ago with Gomorrah – is a great example of how a worldview at C-Suite-level does indeed work, and very well indeed.
I first connected with Unni during a meet in Mumbai, and we followed up for this special conversation. Of course, Unni didn’t tell us how a techie at heart developed such a good feel for content and brought some excellent content offerings into the Tata Sky platter despite not having worked directly for the content part of an entertainment company before. Nor how he balances head and heart while choosing content, and what helps him bring his best to his role role of Chief Content Officer at Tata Sky.
But the rest, from ArunUnni, Chief Content Officer – TATA Sky, makes for interesting, insightful reading. In the excerpts below, he speaks on a variety of topics, including his views on the content bouquet of Tata Sky’s latest offering, World Screen, the content acquisition philosophy of Tata Sky, some interesting content consumption pattern insights, on Indians’ inclination to pay for good content, on the IPL’s demands on disposable time, and more.
Which are the best offerings, movies and TV shows, on World Screen?
We have a vast collection of critically acclaimed and popular International and Hollywood movies and some of the best TV dramas from across the world in various languages, including Arabic, Russian, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Hindi, Swahili, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and of course, English. top International Films and series from all over the world. Available in international languages including many Hollywood blockbusters.
It is difficult to pin point the best offerings, as you put it, not just because it is a huge collection of 650 hours, but also because everything on Tata Sky World Screen is really lovingly handpicked and curated content.
Some great world movie titles that come to mind are the South Korean war drama movie Operation Chromite, directed by John H. Lee and based on the real-life events of the Battle of Inchon starring Liam Neeson, Jung-jae Lee and Beom-su Lee; the Rob Minkoff-directed The Forbidden Kingdom, starting Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Michael Angarano; the Spanish-Bulgarian science fiction action film Automata starring Hollywood icon Antonio Banderas, the Mexican-French thriller film Desierto, along with several memorable and iconic Hollywood movies like The Hurt Locker and other top franchises too. It is a great collection that celebrate a diverse set of film makers who have given us some truly memorable blockbuster, popular and critically acclaimed films.
And as for the TV dramas, well, there are British, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian and Canadian series based on crime, thriller, noir, drama and other genres. Some really good TV series include Box Sets Premieres of the acclaimed thriller Wallander, Happy Valley, Code 37, Team Chocolate and Prisoners of War.
At Rs.75 a month for such content each month, World Screen is a very interesting offering. How much of the content will be exclusively available on Tata Sky?
We have been driven first and foremost by quality rather than exclusivity. Having said that, I can tell you that quite a bit of the International movies and TV shows that you will see on Tata Sky World Screen you will not find anywhere else.Marquee TV shows like Babylon Berlin and Hathufim are exclusively available on Tata Sky World Screen
World Screen has some interesting content. When I viewed White Collar and Blindspot and Narcos and Covert Affairs, for instance, on various other OTT platforms, I binge-watched. Will I be able to binge-watch World Screen content, or have you scheduled it like a TV channel?
Well, I think you will find that we have truly curated our content, basis not just the quality of the content, but also from the way it starts becoming available to our users and subscribers.
Every evening, across four hours of prime time, we will make available the first and succeeding episodes of TV dramas, and also movie titles from Hollywood and World cinema. That is our schedule for interactively introducing the Tata Sky World Screen content to its lovers. Then, as and when more and more episodes and movie titles become available each day, they remain available for binge viewing, successive episodes and movie titles getting added to the available library of the premium content. So, what we are doing, in effect, is inviting our discerning subscribers to savor each great series and movie title and keep pace with the successive titles for binge watching too.
A year or more ago, you had launched the brilliant Italian series Gomorrah on Tata Sky, two seasons, one episode a day. How did that experiment pan out, and what learnings did it give you for the launch of Tata Sky World Screen?
The Gomorrah test, as it were, was a two-month affair. We had handpicked the brilliant series and decided to check how it would pan out, releasing one episode a day over a two-month period. Tata Sky has always had the most discerning and premium subscribers, with whom we were convinced great content would resonate really well. We were proved right. Gomorrah was consistently amongst the top 5 shows watched by our subscribers throughout the time it was available. That convinced us that our subscribers are not only discerning, they also seek out and consume the best content, and so we decided to create a much larger bouquet of similarly handpicked content, and now here we are. Selecting and curating the content has taken the better part of a year, but we are truly satisfied. It has been well worth the wait.
Of the two main parts of the Tata Sky business, ie DTH and the Tata Sky-curated or licensed paid services for additional revenues and greater ARPUs, one has seen that your additional paid services are growing in not just numbers but significance. Going by your catalogue of paid services and the industry guesstimates, your paid services are the industry’s biggest in terms of share of revenue they contribute to main business.What is Tata sky’s content aggregation philosophy?
Well, our content aggregation philosophy helps us deliver on our basic mission and promise that we express in our baseline – which is about the value proposition of getting a Tata Sky connection and enjoying the services: Isskolagadaala to life Jingalala. Spread as we are across markets in every tier of India, our audiences are a mix of millions of premium, highly discerning, aware and aspirational users and families.
If one were to look at the various types of content in our paid services bouquet, you could say our content offerings strategically address two important needs of viewers: entertainment and aspiration. But all our licensed content is underlined by world class quality.
What kind of content consumption patterns are you witnessing on Tata Sky — in terms of genres, and also in terms of markets, including language markets? How popular is English content in regional markets?
Our research has shown us some interesting findings. Consumers in tier 2 towns of Southern India have shown an inclination towards consuming English content. We also have noticed how language-based services also have a huge stickiness with consumers. Hence our regional offerings such as Tata Sky Bangla Cinema, Tata Sky Marathi & Tata Sky Punjab De Rang have seen large number of subscribers, agnostic to their respective geographies. Similarly, we also are now looking at launching Tata Sky Tamil for our subscribers.
Which of your markets do you believe World Screen content will resonate with most? To what extent would you include the high-growth and aspirational driven Tier 3 and 4 markets on that list?
Our subscriber base is as well informed and content-savvy as it is large, and the Tata Sky World Screen content should resonate with them across markets. The major metros have always consumed international content, but what is significant is that metros and even smaller cities in the regional markets have shown a high rate of consumption of English and international content. That is testimony to the positive effect of heightened awareness in the wake of digital proliferation.
I believe the high-growth Tier 3 and 4 markets too would respond positively to Tata Sky World Screen because first, as you yourself has correctly said, it is an aspirational audience, and second, the content on it is of stop-in-your-surfing-tracks quality. Once a subscriber pauses to watch great looking video content, often, the subtitles quickly kick in to complete the job and keep the viewer hooked. Thereafter, of course, it is the innate stickiness of the content, which is something we are very confident about.
To my mind, World Screen would help raise ARPUs via greater awareness amongst Tata Sky subscribers, and also enhance Tata Sky perception amongst non-TS subscribers on quality content offerings for obvious organic benefits. How are you marketing World Screen? For which primary audiences (TS Subscribers and / or non-subscribers?) And primarily for which markets?
Content is the single greatest magnet, and we have seen that entertaining and useful content has always driven our ARPUs up. Obviously, our primary objective would be to market it to our huge captive audience through our Channel 100. We are also looking at complementary digital and social promotions and user conversations to drive awareness amongst their peers, other users of Tata Sky, and lovers of great World cinema and drama content across the spectrum, and the wonderful thing about the digital medium is it is ubiquitous and omni-present,
With the 11th edition of the IPL underway, disposable time for most viewers to indulge in non-IPL content would reduce. You didn’t want to wait for the IPL to end before launching World Screen, even though it does have some great content?
Cricket matches are played in the evening, but Tata Sky World Screen is available to subscribers on the STB all day, on the web & mob app and VOD 24×7. We’re talking about some great content.
Sure, the IPL will make demands on viewers’ time, but we have observed from past viewership patterns of Tata Sky subscriber that even during the IPL, they have not only identified great content available on Tata Sky services but also made the time to view it. Remember, it is available for viewing on both — the fixed television at home, and on the go in a hyper-personal manner on the Tata Sky appacross mobile, tablet, laptop and even the fixed desktop. So, the Tata Sky subscriber doesn’t need appointment viewing; we have converted it into convenience viewing.
It is a fact that not a single OTT platform has broken even. Netflix is bleeding billions of dollars even now – reportedly over 20 billion USD at last count. Coming to India, all OTT platforms in India are in the red. Is it partly because of the belief that the Indian audiences do not like to pay for good content –that they still like free or ad-supported content. Do you agree?
At Tata Sky we have seen evidence of much willingness to pay for good content across all the value-added services. And speaking of Indian audiences in general today, they are far more willing to pay for good content. But remember, our Indian audiences are very demanding and will only pay for quality content. Like any other audiences, they are driven by value for money.
How successful have you been with the paid services so far? In helping get people to start paying for content? How did you decide the subscription amount for Tata Sky World Screen? At least, what is the growth in percentage terms of number of paying subscribers for special services like World Screen?
We have always priced our special offerings at very reasonable levels, and that, coupled with the great entertainment and aspirational value of our special services, has helped us sign up and retain an ever-increasing number of subscribers for our special offerings.
The number of paying subscribers for our special services has grown at a healthy rate.Seventy-five rupees a month is around one third the price of a cup of coffee or one fourth that of a movie ticket.