“Com­pe­ti­tion is ev­ery­where”

The Brand Reporter - - INTERVIEW - anir­ban.choud­hury@afaqs.com

Balaji Tele­films’ on­line video on de­mand plat­form, ALTBalaji has been ac­tive since April. Shows that have be­gun gen­er­at­ing buzz in­clude Kar­rle Tu Bhi Mo­hab­bat, Dev DD, Romil and Jug­gal. The con­tent, that fea­tures TV and film ac­tors, is aimed at re­defin­ing the web-se­ries for­mat, pop­u­larly con­sid­ered a launch pad for new­com­ers.

We spoke to Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, a veteran in the broad­cast space who has ex­pe­ri­ence of lead­ing TV pro­gram­ming in Star Plus and Sony. He is look­ing to tar­get the ad­dress­able mar­ket perched bang in the mid­dle of Naa­gin and Nar­cos. Edited ex­cerpts:

What do early data trends sug­gest about the way your con­tent is be­ing re­ceived? What part of the data has sur­prised you?

We are mov­ing to­wards four mil­lion down­loads; our reg­is­tered users are watch­ing 50 min­utes a day. We are see­ing billings from over 25 coun­tries and there is a wider age group (1840 years) - than we as­sumed - watch­ing con­tent.

How do you zero in on your shows? What kind of re­search goes into the process and how is it dif­fer­ent from that which is done be­fore green-light­ing a TV show?

Un­like TV, our re­search is show-ag­nos­tic... it’s done to un­der­stand trends. There’s an in­cred­i­ble de­mand for re­gional con­tent. About 1.7 per cent of the TV view­ing au­di­ence watches English (con­tent). But on the in­ter­net that num­ber is 10-15 per cent. So the 85 per cent who are not watch­ing English con­tent - points us to­wards lan­guages other than English.

The in­ter­net is not lim­ited to big cities. In the list of the top 20 cities in which ALTBalaji’s con­tent is con­sumed are cities like Anand and Jaipur, along­side Dubai and Mum­bai.

Why did you get into re­gional con­tent?

Sev­enty per cent of our (pro­jected) busi­ness, at least in the first year, in In­dia, is through sub­scrip­tion and 30 per cent, from out­side. So, a lan­guage like Ben­gali finds trac­tion also among the Bangladeshi au­di­ence.

We have done one Tamil show and that found trac­tion in Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia. Also, in the re­gional con­tent space, there’s a huge gap be­tween TV con­tent and movies. Re­gional TV con­tent is cre­ated at one-sixth or one-sev­enth the cost of a Hindi TV show. So we be­come an ‘up­graded of­fer­ing’ for them.

How ex­pen­sive is it to cre­ate shows?

The per episode pro­duc­tion cost of an ALT show roughly is 2.5X of TV. On TV, when you are mak­ing 200 episodes you can take your fixed cost and di­vide it. But when you di­vide it for 10 episodes, the cost per episode is much higher.

What is the strat­egy when it comes to con­tent? What gaps are you look­ing to fill?

There is a huge gap be­tween Naa­gin and

Nar­cos - that is our tar­get. We do ‘badge value pro­gram­ming’ by get­ting peo­ple like Nim­rat Kaur and Ra­jku­mar Rao.

We do not be­lieve that the TV au­di­ence is dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent from dig­i­tal. We need to up­grade them from home food to a thali... not to sushi. TV does not cater to males as much as it does to the fe­male au­di­ence. This is the gap be­tween pro­gram­ming in the West and in In­dia. We want to cre­ate con­tent for the spec­trum.

Aren’t many play­ers try­ing to do the same thing? What dif­fer­en­ti­ates ALT?

Our busi­ness model is dif­fer­ent... We do not of­fer ‘one free month’ like oth­ers. For each show, we keep five episodes avail­able for free, three of which are avail­able on YouTube. Af­ter that one needs to go to the app. A con­sumer will only pay once she/he wants to watch be­yond five episodes. This is a unique model.

We are a sub­scrip­tion-driven plat­form with In­dian orig­i­nal con­tent, mak­ing us the only plat­form to tar­get the ur­ban masses across 50 cities. West­ern con­tent will nar­row the au­di­ence.

You’re charg­ing `300 per year. How soon will that change? You have a 36-month break-even plan...

The cur­rent pack­ages are in­tro­duc­tory of­fers. We’ll keep the pric­ing be­tween `1 to `2 per day. When we planned our con­tent, there was no de­mon­eti­sa­tion, there was no Jio, the in­ter­net was not as af­ford­able. So our tim­ing turned out to be good. We’re tak­ing things one quar­ter at a time. We’ll be able to break even as planned.

What is your big­gest com­pe­ti­tion?

There are TV chan­nels putting shows on dig­i­tal, global play­ers are com­ing in with the in­ten­tion of cre­at­ing orig­i­nal shows, there are teams with strong tech­no­log­i­cal back­bone en­ter­ing. There’s com­pe­ti­tion ev­ery­where. ■

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