“Competition is everywhere”
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. ■