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Now is the time for OTT players to sit back and rethink their content strategy, says Nachiket Pantvaidya of ALTBalaji

In an interview with BestMediaInfo.com, ALTBalaji CEO and Balaji Telefilms Group COO says there has been a 15-20% surge in viewership of OTT due to the lockdown, and this lockdown phase will act as a catalyst in changing the content consumption habits

Nachiket Pantvaidya

As ALTBalaji completes three years in the OTT space, Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji and Group COO, Balaji Telefilms, in conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, says the journey has been positive and the platform has grown due to innovative business strategies.

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ALTBalaji had said in a statement that they had seen a 60% increase in subscriptions since the lockdown was announced. “ALTBalaji is witnessing a strong uptake of digital subscriptions with an average of 17,000 subscriptions added per day post-lockdown versus an average of 10,600 in March 2020 pre-lockdown, a growth of 60%. As of date, the platform has over 1.7m active direct subscribers,” it said.

The statement said the shows that have been added at the beginning of the year continued to perform well on the platform. “Since February we have added five shows, including the runaway hits such as ‘Mentalhood’ and ‘It Happened in Calcutta’. Shows launched in earlier months continue to see good engagement as consumers are now watching more of the library that we have successfully built. The ALTBalaji library as of date is at 60 shows and has the most popular shows for mass Indian audiences. ALTBalaji is very well placed to add more shows once the lockdown is lifted,” it added.

Speaking about the current situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the platform, Pantvaidya says they are in the position of launching 25-30 shows this year, including a few shows lined up for the upcoming months. “We are certain we will achieve our targets of launching 25-30 shows this year as well. However, our topmost priority is to keep everyone around us safe, be it our production teams or the office employees. We have enough content in our library currently to keep everyone entertained,” he said.

He says there has been a 15-20% surge in terms of viewership due to the lockdown and that the current surge will help OTT players in retaining audiences. He said the current situation will also influence future content consumption habits of consumers.

“I believe now is the time for OTT platform players to sit back and rethink their content strategy. Though this growth is due to a phase right now, we believe this lockdown phase will act as a catalyst in changing the content consumption habits of the audience to some extent while making some of them the avid followers of original content.”

Excerpts:

As ALTBalaji completed three years this month, how has the overall journey been so far? What changes have you witnessed in the OTT space in these years?

Having set milestones and breaking new grounds for over three years, our journey has been fairly business positive and will continue to do so. Since its inception, ALTBalaji has been on top of the consumer’s mind for its unique narratives and clutter-breaking original Hindi content and we have aggressively grown on the back of innovative business strategies. Moving from strength to strength, we’ve today become a major player in the Indian OTT industry and gained further encouragement by the massive increase in subscriber base.

With a substantial bouquet of original content across genres that keeps viewers engaged, our app has consistently ranked among the top three grossing video streaming apps in the country across the app store (Source: App Annie).

According to a recent report by PwC, the OTT market is set to grow at a rate of 22% to reach Rs 12,000 crore in the next four years. The soon-to-arrive 5G networks will only work as a shot in the arm for OTT platforms to scale further heights. Digital is an ever-evolving medium and when it comes to OTT players, competition across the industry is soaring high with everyone at their toes trying to secure their places in the minds of consumers.

Has the Covid-19 crisis affected this target in any way in terms of show production and revenue?

The pandemic has affected the economy at large and the businesses, including our industry but we are glad that we are still in the position to launch some new shows in the next 1-2 months’ time. We are certain that we will achieve our targets of launching 25-30 shows this year as well. However, our top-most priority is to keep everyone around us safe, be it our production teams or the office employees. We have enough content in our library currently to keep everyone entertained.

A lot of OTT players are focusing on regional content. What does the regional content strategy look like for ALTBalaji?

We, at ALTBalaji, are currently focusing on capturing the Hindi-speaking market and gradually move towards other regional markets. A host of our Hindi offerings have also been dubbed in Indian and international languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bahasa, Arabic, etc. among others. We shall continue to focus on expanding our language content library in the coming years.

You also partnered with Zee5. Do you think this collaborative model is helping you as it might also create confusion in audiences' minds?

With 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. ALTBalaji and Zee5 have established their content strength globally, and the synergy resulted in two of the largest homegrown video streaming platforms coming together to expand their subscription base and grow the binge-watching culture globally.

How much of an uptick in user traffic are you seeing in the lockdown compared to a regular day? Has there been any growth in the number of subscriptions?

The current predicament that we face today sees audiences now having more time at their disposal. This excessive free time usually ends up being channelised in spending time with family, household chores and consuming content via OTT platforms. With an increase in appetite to consume our diverse bouquet of originals, we have witnessed a 15-20% surge across the industry in terms of viewership. In addition to the above, we have noticed a substantial rise in the time spent consuming our content across urban and rural cities.

In the current scenario, our primary objective is to not let our operations be compromised, so as a responsible platform, we are also urging our viewers to shift from HD to SD quality to reduce the stress on the telecom network infrastructure. As we encourage our viewers to practice social distancing, we shall continue to serve quality entertainment at their fingertips.

The Covid-19 crisis is said to have helped OTT players turn into viewers’ habit in the absence of fresh content on TV. How much audience from these temporarily migrated viewers will stay with OTT even after the crisis is over?

OTT content consumption has witnessed a steady growth throughout and will continue to do so, on its own. The lockdown period has indeed scaled up the OTT content consumption game and I believe now is the time for OTT platform players to sit back and rethink their content strategy. Though this growth is due to a phase right now, we believe this lockdown phase will act as a catalyst in changing the content consumption habits of the audience to some extent while making some of them the avid followers of original content.

Also, our premium shows including ‘Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain’ season1 & 2, ‘Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat’, and ‘Baarish’ season 1, that made its way to television recently, has been garnering a great response from viewers. As the audience is being exposed to the exclusive content now available on digital, it is opening more avenues for both consumers as well as OTT players.

We are confident that having sampled our portfolio of exciting, original web series, viewers will subscribe for more such content.

As restrictions on producing content continue, television platforms have resorted on ticking the 'nostalgic' factor. What options can OTT players explore? 

During this unfortunate lockdown, India has become more digital-savvy with more and more people coming on the internet. This phase is going to teach OTT players to leverage and utilise their content library. According to a market research firm techARC, India had 502.2 million smartphone users as of December 2019.

The time spent on phones has substantially increased especially during this phase. According to KPMG’s recent report titled ‘Covid-19: The many shades of a crisis’, the penetration of subscription-based digital models is set to accelerate. One cannot assume that all of them have seen our content. From a content segmentation and a subscription acquisition point of view, one needs to start looking at these newer people to acquire. What works for us is to concentrate on consumer segmentation behaviour, understanding how to retain the customers better and working on on-boarding the new segment that have just been acquainted with internet. To sum it, we are working towards utilising our library. Meanwhile our next slate of shows is getting ready for the launch.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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