After spending 25 years in Bollywood, veteran film director Vikram Bhatt took a digital plunge last year when he started making a series for YouTube. The director of popular Hindi movies such as Raaz and 1921 says making content for web is just like playing a 20-20 cricket match.
Bhatt has now launched an app, VB-theatre, on the web to showcase his content and content of other makers. The app will work on transaction-based pay per show model instead of a subscription model.
Bhatt said the rising consumption of content on digital led him to foray into making short movies for the web.
In an interview with BestMediaInfo.com, Bhatt said the transaction-based video-on-demand model would force makers to deliver good content as every show or series will get its own revenue.
"I don’t want to sell subscription and then disappoint people by showing them something they don’t like or give it for free and then disappoint them by charging them. So, it is better to have a transaction model and this is a very tough situation because this means you have to be very sure of your content,” he said.
Bhatt said that the minimum price for watching a show has been kept at Rs 18 as we wanted to keep it as low as the minimum auto fare in Mumbai so that the maximum number of people can consume content.
The app currently has only one show running but soon three more shows will be launched after which a marketing campaign will be rolled out.
You have been releasing your original content on YouTube and other platforms like Viu. You've got a good viewership there. Then why take risk and launch a new platform?
YouTube doesn’t give you the revenue, so for how long can you make stuff for free! At the end of the day, you have to pay actors and technicians. You can’t keep telling people to work for less or for free. A revenue model and a robust business model have to evolve, without which no activity is sustainable.
In cases of other platforms, I don’t hold the intellectual property rights (IPR). Also, the whole point is that I am making a different kind of platform. I am creating a theatre on the web and I want to empower other digital makers to come, to show their content and to be able to charge a ticket.
How's your theatre on the web model different from subscription and advertising revenue model?
I am not an advertising-based video on demand (A-VOD) or a subscription-based video on demand (S-VOD). I am a transaction-based video on demand (T-VOD) channel. My channel works on the transaction model and it is a theatre, I want to run it like a multiplex. So, today I am a single screen because I have only one show (Untouchables).But when I have four shows running (Maya, Twisted and Zakhmi), it will be a multiplex. We will have deals.If someone wants to buy one show, it is for Rs 18 and two shows may cost Rs 30.
How did you decide on the figure of Rs 18?
I wanted to make it affordable for everyone. Rs 18 is the minimum fare of an auto rickshaw meter, and one can also buy a vadapav with that amount. There will be ads in the free segment of the app.
Would there be shows and series from other content makers and what will be the revenue model?
The other content creators will also get a platform to float their series here, exclusively. Whatever is the subscription revenue for their shows, we will keep 25% of it. The creator will get the rest. This will motivate the content creators to give more quality content which will be more in demand and, hence, the subscription or transactions will increase.
What kind of entertainment would the app offer? Will there be movies available on too?
There will be songs that we have made especially for the app. In the long run, there will be movies too, may be about an-hour-and-a-half long, but those will also be created especially for this platform. On the third leg, there will be short films that will be available in clusters. So, if there is a short film about a love story, we will try to accumulate a few more and then 10-12 of these will be sold in one cluster of love stories and will be priced the same at Rs 18. There is too much of short films floating on the internet, especially on YouTube.
There would be no licensing of the movies or any other content. We are not aggregators. We are not acquiring. Everything will be original.
Will you be also focusing on branded content?
I feel that all content is not brand friendly. So, we don’t want to make what the brand wants us to make, we don’t want to be straight-jacketed by the demands of the brands. The whole point of having this app and charging a negligible amount of money is so that it empowers different kind of voices and content.
Are you enjoying making content for digital? How different is this experience from film making or content for television?
I love it. This is the best phase of my life. Because I am innovating, trying new stuff, meeting young and vibrant talent. Making content is the same. You have cameras, actors and it is the same shebang. But the grammar is different just as the difference between a 20-20, one day and test match. So, daily soaps are test cricket, films are one days and the web is 20-20. But cricket is cricket. The rules are the same.
Aren’t there too many players in OTT space right now?
I think there will be consolidation. Ultimately, it is going to be a game of big players – a deep-pocket game. It is going to be a game for the people who have money to sustain. Fortunately, for me, I am not that kind of an OTT. I am not competing for the subscription space.
Do you think that the players who started charging from the start are better off?
It depends on what you are showing them. If they want to pay for it, they will pay for it but that is why I decided that I don’t want to do either of them. I don’t want to sell subscription and then disappoint people by showing them something they don’t like or give it for free and then disappoint them by charging them. So, it is better to have a transaction model and this is a very tough situation because this means you have to be very sure of your content.
In the subscription model, you take the money and then roll out whatever you want but in this model, every time you are on a different test. If someone buys Untouchables, that doesn’t mean they will buy other content. It has to be equally good.
Are people in India ready to pay for content?
I am doing 700 transactions a day at Rs 18, much before I have even publicised it. So, I think people value good content. Where there is good content, people will come. The point is to make it very cheap and Rs 18 is very cheap. We have also made the payment gateways easier. We have Paytm, PayPal and other options. We also have Google purchase and people can add it to their phone bill.
While all web series will be paid, what is the window before it goes into the free segment of the website?
There is no specific window. It will depend on – ‘till when does the viewer pay for it’. It is somewhat similar to how playstation works. Every game is priced. In the beginning, they are priced high and then it decreases and it goes into a free space later.
Do you think the digital availability of content will affect small budget movies in theatres?
I don’t think so. If people want to watch a movie in a theatre, they will do that and we are not making films. We are making more of series and short films. Digital films are still very nascent, I don’t think that has started as of yet. Even on Netflix, people prefer to watch the series as opposed to the films. I don’t think films have really caught on in the digital space per say.
Will films be made specifically for phones?
I don’t think films on mobile phones will be very popular because I don’t think people would want to be glued to their mobile screen for an hour and a half. If people do watch movies on mobile phones, then it will be in bits. Because it is the phone where you are getting WhatsApp messages or calls. It’s not like a DVD player, it is used for other things as well.
The quality of productions seems to be quite high and so does the invetments. Do you think there is enough RoI on mobile video content?
Yes. Investment is high. You can’t short change the customer. The RoI will come. I am hoping to break even in a year.