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AVOD is the next big move for us: aha’s Nitin Burman and Vaasudev Koppineni

Aha, a Tamil and Telugu OTT platform, recently announced the launch of aha GOLD, a premium annual subscription offering created to deliver exciting 4K ultra HD video streaming combined with high quality Dolby audio to enhance the overall customer experience. As part of this annual subscription, viewers now have access to all of aha’s new releases, including movies, TV shows, and original content – in both Telugu and Tamil – ad free. The goal of this offering is to create more value to customers and also have an enhanced experience of watching their favourite content, especially on smart TVs. Aha is able to deliver this with a combination of its 100% local content, and robust technology stack.

In conversation with Adgully, Nitin Burman, Head of non-Subscription, aha, and Vaasudev Koppineni, Vice President of Content & Strategy, aha, speak at length about aha’s growth journey ever since its inception, its new content lineup for aha Gold, plans to adopt an AVOD model as well, strategy for the festive season this year, and much more.

How has aha’s growth and performance been ever since its inception?

Vaasudev Koppineni: From a content perspective, when we say 100% local entertainment, we are talking about stories from the land, we are talking about stories which have emotional resonance from the geography or emotional resonance from the people that are there, that belong to this land, we are talking about novelty in treatment, which comes from this place, you're talking about various other factors, which create an impact through storytelling in itself. If I have to talk about marketing as an aspect, because we are situated in the heartland, and we talk to the people here, we also know how to communicate, we know the communication language, the currency to communicate with these people across here. So, I think that 100% local entertainment is a positioning that reflects in every aspect of what we are as a platform.

When we started, I think there were a couple of hiccups – one was in the form of a pandemic, where suddenly we had to stop production. But I think the preparation that we had done, really helped us during the soft launch in February 2020, to continuously cater to the audience in terms of the content that we were offering. There were a lot of innovations that happened during the pandemic times as well, which helped us grow real fast. We were one of the fastest regional platforms to go to a million and now we probably are running the race to become the real leading regional platform in the country with over 2 million subscription base paid subscribers on the platform.

So, I think the journey has been really interesting in Telugu. We have breakthrough shows in both fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction we have ‘Unstoppable’, a talk show hosted by Balakrishna, one of the top leading actors here. In fact, IMDB rated it the most popular reality show in India in 2020, ahead of even shows like ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’ and ‘Indian Matchmaking’. There are also talent shows, such as ‘Telugu Indian Idol’. In the fiction space, we were able to create a lot of original content – our content portfolio is very diverse when it comes to episodic format, premium originals, and original films. Thus, our content portfolio is quite diverse when compared to any other complementary service in the country.

We started our operations in Tamil as well with the soft launch on February 10, 2022. We are planning a big launch during the festive period. The intent is to grow much faster in Tamil, because we already have a learning curve in Telugu.

Nitin Burman: I’ll speak about how we’ve moved in terms of revenue. When we started, we were clearly an SVOD platform, and for one and a half years, we wanted to be a subscription based platform with no advertisements on our platform. There were 2-3 reasons for that. One, of course, was to give a premium experience to our audiences, and also to have an ad free experience. However, since last year we started getting advertisers in terms of brand solutions, because there were a lot of requirements for these advertisers to reach out to the South audiences as well. So, we thought why not get them as part of our content seamlessly, get brands to be part of the stories that we are creating. We did a few fiction shows where we got brands like CenterFresh and HUL on board, where they were very seamlessly put into the script and were made part of the stories. When you do this, the engagement levels are much higher, because you do not actually skip the ads – they are already part of the story. So, you have to watch them. And then you start relating also because you see the characters using those brands effortlessly. That’s how the engagement for the brand also goes up. That worked for us as a lot of brands started coming on board.

How are you differentiating the content between the AVOD and SVOD offerings?

Vaasudev Koppineni: It is more of a hybrid model. The way we position the content is that there is a premium package where you will have access to content in both languages and access to content with a premium viewing experience. Then there will be an annual pack, where we will serve the content with ads. And then there will be an entry level pack, which will also serve the content with the ads. The intention is to have multiple packs so that there is convenience for the user to choose what he wants to.

Nitin Burman: All our paid packs will have access to the entire library that we have. But the users who have not subscribed in any form will have access to only a certain set of libraries; such as the first episode of our series which will be open for them to sample. Once they choose a plan – be it ad-free plan or an ad plan – then they will get access to the entire library. What features will they get along with it depends on the plan that they choose.

When it comes to subscribers, how has it been growing throughout this past year?

We have continued to show our dominance in the Telugu market – we have hit the 2-million subscriber mark as well. But I think there is a cap somewhere on the number of paid subscribers that you can achieve at any point of time. So, though it has been very encouraging, we believe that the next set of growth and the next big thing is AVOD, because the customers who are ready to watch content with ads, I think that cap is 10X or more that what we have with the paid subscribers. That’s also one major reason why we have picked up AVOD as we believe that it is the next big move for us. We will keep continuing to grow and to continue this exponential growth, we have embraced AVOD as well.

Do you have any specific marketing strategy lined up?

Vaasudev Koppineni: One will find ads only in our entry level package at preent, which is a quarterly package priced at Rs 199. The actual announcement of the hybrid model will happen during the festive season. We are planning to do a specific targeted marketing campaign for AVOD, which will include digital as well as on-ground activation.

Nitin Burman: The work has already started as the festive season is knocking at our doors. We have just done a strategy deal with Sprite, where they will carry aha’s logo on every Sprite bottle across Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana. Nationally, Sprite is doing similar campaigns with the other competitors, but in AP/ Telangana they have chosen aha as the OTT platform. As part of the campaign, we will be provising one day of premium access to every user who buys a bottle of Sprite. Hence, it’s like an initiation, because that is what will allow people to sample our platform. As part of the marketing strategy, we will be rolling out a TV series as well.

The moment the festive hits, we have lined up one of our biggest shows in October – Season 2 of ‘Unstoppable’. With that, we plan to go all out across Asia as well as launch new packs.

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