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OTT players are spending big on marketing but is it translating into ROI?

The OTT competition in India, with more than 50 players, has led to a wave of promotions and marketing activities. But, how much is the big marketing push focused on adding new viewers to the platform? Experts answer

The race to the top in the video streaming market in India is intensifying like never before amid the pandemic and the players are spending huge bucks to promote themselves and their shows. But how much of an impact do these promotional activities really make on the audience base? The answer can be open-ended, say experts.

According to a Ficci-EY report, video streaming services are expected to spend around Rs 1,920 crore to create original content for India in 2021. This is a 17% rise from the Rs 1,400 crore spent in 2019. With more than 50 players, the OTT video market is thriving with original content.

While international players such as Netflix have been at forefront of attracting Indian viewers with Indian content, many homegrown players that are originally from the television background are experimenting with content to attract viewers.

In March, Netflix had announced close to 41 titles for the Indian market. It announced that Mumbai will soon have Netflix’s first fully owned full-service post-production facility globally. According to reports, the Indian OTT audience universe stands at 353.2 million with a 25% penetration.

The growth in OTT consumption, backed by the Covid-19 pandemic, led to players spending huge money on advertising and marketing their properties. Recently, Netflix had a slew of promotional stunts ranging from branded content, advertising, on-ground activations for season 5 of Money Heist. Similarly, Amazon Prime Video heavily promoted the movie Shershaah across platforms.

AK vs AK, a Netflix original title, was watched in 40 countries and dubbed in 40 languages. The promotions of the film conceptualised by The Rabbit Hole explored multi-channel platforms ranging from social media banter, three movie trailers, at least two branded content pieces and a heavy presence on OOH across malls, highways, airports, etc. According to the agency, they were able to create 80% positive sentiment around the campaign. 

While such promotions might be successful in catching eyeballs, how much do they focus on and succeed in adding new viewers to the platforms?

One argument is that while promotions go in full swing for these shows, people watch content on streaming platforms for several other reasons such as word-of-mouth, content, etc.

For example, last year Scam 1992, became one of the most-watched shows in India. If you compare it to Netflix or Amazon, SonyLiv did not promote it on the same scale. In such a scenario, does spending so much money make sense?

Darshan Bhatt

Darshan Bhatt, Managing Partner, Small Batch Media, said the noise that has been created by Netflix for two shows, Lucifer and Money Heist, has significantly contributed to the number of households that have access to Netflix. He said a lot of success for Aashram that streamed on MX Player, came through the advertising that they did. “A lot of shows that are being advertised today garner a 20-30% viewership.”

Devendra Deshpande

According to Devendra Deshpande, Head-Business and Growth at Friday Filmworks, there are two aspects of OTT shows — push content and pull content. Push content is high-quality, low-budget content; it is will engage you but it will have to be pushed to you. On the other hand, pull content is something that you see and that intrigue you.

“Money Heist has been so extensively promoted but people like me who still have not watched the show are intrigued; and it jumped on to my watchlist. The moment you start creating buzz, people will go and see what it is about; the ratio could be 40:60. Secondly, it is subjective to platforms. All of them come with different ticket sizes, which make the reach of a particular show very different. It may depend on factors such as other smaller markets. When you look at the subscriber base, it varies from Netflix to Prime video to Disney. It depends on the properties as well as the ticket sizes,” he said.

Deshpande said while there are one-offs like Scam 1992 and Kota Factory, which have done well despite low promotions, there are a hundred others that failed because they were not promoted on a sizeable scale. “New-age streaming platforms look at marketing in a very different light. Yes promotions do work but they have to be sustained and the power of content needs to be right.”

Speaking to BestMediaInfo.com, a leading OTT player said their strategy has been quite successful in translating into ROI. “Our marketing aimed at creating a lot of intrigues just around our content. Our job is to fuel the fandom and give them something they can speak about. Every company has their marketing budgets and strategies, titles they want to go after. Eventually content has to work,” they said.

“If a certain campaign didn’t reach you, maybe it wasn’t meant for you. Marketing campaigns are also getting very unique and creative in the way they design, but I think the goal is always to ensure to drive conversations,” they added.

Pratik Gupta

Pratik Gupta, Co-Founder, Zoo Media and FoxyMoron, said you can’t look at OTT marketing like traditional film marketing, where they say this is a movie come and watch it. “For me, marketing has two ROIs. One is new customer acquisition and that may happen because so many people are talking about it everybody would want to get on the bandwagon. The second is, it also allows somebody like Netflix to come back to me, who is a Netflix subscriber, and say that this is new, why don't you watch it.”

He said while platforms spend a huge amount in acquiring a particular content, they need to justify that by getting their existing or newer customers to actually watch the show. “You’re paying almost Rs 700 on an average per month and 10,000 annually on give or take. They have to market to both sides. A large part of franchise promotion is done to create intrigue.”

Shrenik Gandhi

According to Shrenik Gandhi, Co-founder and CEO, White Rivers Media, “There is no doubt that good campaigns when amplified by big budgets definitely help attract eyeballs. It's not about cost per view. It is about collective perception. Collective perception becomes a collective reality. And hence it is justified to spend good budgets for your key campaigns. Creativity is central to any marketing campaign and budgets help us to take it to the right audience, at the right time and in the right place—thereby ensuring relevance and consideration.”

Gandhi gave the example of Ghoul, where Netflix superimposed the bloody, mysterious Ghoul ‘symbol’ on Sacred Games’ OOH sites, social media posts and successfully teased the show, as the creative disruptive stunt was discussed by many for evoking just enough suspense to get excited for the show.

However, he said there were a lot of industry first and clutter-breaking marketing campaigns conceptualised and executed for Scam 1992. “When it comes to content and big budgets; big budgets are always secondary. They act as a cherry on the cake, but they can't replace the cake, i.e. content, and the product will always be the most important prerequisite for success. ‘Scam 1992’ is a perfect example of this evolving entertainment consumption behaviour of Indians,” he stated.

Bhatt explained that for different OTTs there are different goals. “For getting app downloads, you need to convince people that there’s this show on our platform that you might like, the idea is that the platform needs you to commit. For specific OTT platforms, there is access to specific data like subscribers who are interested in watching a similar show that they’ve already watched; which makes it easy for them to not spend big dollars because they already know who will prefer watching their show and their target audience.”

He said a platform like SonyLiv has 15-20 original shows. Since they are a broadcaster that ventured into OTT, they can always rely on the broadcast content. Bhatt stated that many platforms that had one-two successful shows don’t have enough content to sustain the audience. “Many times, the top management of platforms that are traditional broadcasters decide that it is unnecessary for them to create a buzz because it doesn’t justify the ROI.”

“There’s a reason why American companies have completely conquered the Indian market; a lot of the seniors in our industry don’t understand the art of consumer retention. The campaign is not done for people to watch the show and leave, the idea is to retain the consumer,” he added.

On the other hand, Gandhi said, localised players, with their growing original library and catch-up TV offering, are attracting more subscriber base. Advertising is key not just to retain, but rather to reach new audiences. It isn’t directly proportional to the size of the content library, but rather to content relevance.


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