93% of users who start watching our shows usually finish it: Ferzad Palia, VOOT Select

VOOT Select, along with Bodhi Tree Multimedia, has launched a four-part web series called ‘The Gone Game’. Shot during the lockdown period, the show features a stellar cast and is directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat. ‘The Gone Game’ is a one-of-a-kind and a never-seen-before concept that puts creative freedom in the hands of the cast of the series to innovate while shooting from their homes.

Also read: Voot Select lives upto its brand promise with new series 'The Gone Game'

Since its launch on Wednesday (August 19, 2020), the trailer has crossed 2.5 million views on YouTube.

In conversation with Adgully, Ferzad Palia, Head - VOOT Select, Youth, Music, and English Entertainment, Viacom18, speaks about on the launch of this show, production during the lockdown period and reception of VOOT Select’s original library of content. Edited excerpts:

The trailer for ‘The Gone Game’ reminded us of a Hollywood film called ‘Searching’. How does the mystery genre lend itself to the format?

‘Crime’ and ‘Thriller’ genres work very well on OTT platforms, but VOOT Select is not just about that. We have various genres of shows. Even though our initial shows ‘Illegal’, ‘The Raikar Case’, ‘Marzi’ and ‘Asur’ appear to be in the same vein, they are very different.

‘The Gone Game’ trailer has a lot of mystery with a lot of phone and laptop screens, but the heart of the show is you can’t figure out how it’s been produced unless you are the creator of the show. Most viewers wouldn’t be able to tell that it has been shot completely during the lockdown, with the talent and the director interacting over the phone. We would have made the story in any case, lockdown or no lockdown. Most people will be so engrossed in the story that they won’t wonder about how it has been shot.

We’ve seen ad films shot at home, but how did you pull off a full-scale production during the lockdown?

Script narration, directing the actors, setting up the cameras and lighting have all been done over the phone. Neither the director nor the Director of Photography (DOP) was in front of the actor. The actual footage has been shot using high-end software and hardware (4K Ultra HD) and very few viewers will be able to tell that it has been shot using a device.

How did you plan the production of the show? How much time did it take to shoot?

We came upon the idea in early May. The script for the show was written between middle of May and early June. Shooting started in the second week of June and finished by the middle of July after which we began editing. It took 75 days to produce four episodes with a duration of 25 minutes each.

What made the initial script so compelling that the show had to be made?

By virtue of launching in March, we had a good bank of original content ready with us. We realised that this bottleneck in production is not a short-term problem. The sooner we innovate in shooting, production and creative content the better it will be from a mid-term to long term perspective. The show must go on.

While there was the handicap of working from home, we decided that all we needed was a really good script and a story that lends to being produced inside people’s homes. Then we put together a really good ensemble cast. Thankfully, everyone agreed to be a part of the show literally in the first instance that we spoke to them. It was a new and exciting opportunity for them because they were stuck from home and couldn’t go to sets and shoot.

Our entire philosophy is ‘Made for Stories’, and this is a story that deserves to be told.

What do you believe is the pull factor of the show?

The trailer has been very well received. From a mystery point of view, it has been a great pull. The second is, of course, the fantastic cast that we have and the creatives. Since the ensemble cast is great, audiences are really looking forward to see the show. My sense is that once they see the four episodes of this season, they will be hungry for more.

…and there will be more?

Yes, we are already discussing a second season. Once we get the story right, we could move quickly to create a second edition.

What has been the audience’s reception to your line-up of original content?

The reception has been incredible right from ‘Asur’, ‘The Raikar Case’, ‘Marzi’ and ‘Illegal’ – from critical acclaim to subscriber numbers, which is the business truth of our existence. We’ve essentially crossed all our best estimates. We’ve accomplished in 90-100 days what we’d expected to achieve in a year. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and while some shows may get the buzz, they don’t necessarily convert into subscribers. For us, all our shows have created a good buzz as well as led to a healthy growth in subscriber count and that continues as we speak.

In addition, our international content as well as our 24 hours before TV strategy has worked very well from a subscriber point of view. Of course, there was a period when there was no fresh TV content. But, for the last one month, since fresh TV content has come back, our 24 hours before TV proposition is growing handsomely. You couldn’t ask for a better 150 days, to be honest.

What is the traction of your original shows vis-a-vis your English content?

While I can’t give you an exact split, when you launch an original show, the uptake and consumption is very high. In fact, 93% of users who start watching our shows usually finish it, which is an incredible content metric and shows that our content is sticky. This is across all our shows.

Originals make up the largest chunk of viewership, followed by international content, which has a completely separate audience and now 24 hours before TV is beginning to join the charge as well.

What is VOOT Select’s commitment to expanding its content library? How many new shows will you be adding weekly/ monthly?

We’ve always maintained that we’ll launch at least one original a month. So, in a 12-month period we’ll have at least 12 originals. We have another Hindi original launching next month and several regional originals in the pipeline that have already been shot and edited. There are many other projects that I am not at liberty to speak about right now, which will drop in this financial year.

We would have put out more than one original a month had it not been for the current situation. A lot of projects had to be pushed because we could not shoot. Nonetheless, there is enough fresh content to keep the consumer satisfied.

Which regional languages will you be exploring first?

We will start off with Tamil and Bangla. All of our content is already dubbed in Kannada and it will be dubbed in other languages as well. Tamil is a very good base to explore from a digital perspective and so is Bangla. We’re starting off with these to see the traction, get some learnings and scale from there.


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