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Multiscreen environment is the new reality: Experts’ clarion call for content creators

Consumers today see no significant divide between digital and traditional media, what they want is more flexibility, freedom and convenience in when and how they consume their preferred content. Thankfully, the new digital offerings have created a bigger, more diverse content universe, where digital has accelerated delivery across platforms. But are content producers and distributors equipped with the right tools to navigate these changing times? 

The millennials are immersed in a digital world that has shaped their political, social and cultural attitudes. How are millennials shaping the future of content creation and consumption in the digital world? Further, while AVOD remains the primary source of monetisation for the OTT players in the country, the SVOD and Freemium models are seeing traction, largely on the back of compelling original content. 

To gauge the explosion of ‘Content in Multiscreen Environment & Emerging New Narratives in Storytelling’, Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji, moderated a session at the ongoing FICCI Frames. The panellists included Rian Bester, CEO, Insight TV; Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Venture; Amish Tripathi, Author; Saurabh Doshi, Director - Entertainment Partnerships, Facebook, Asia-Pacific; Karan Bedi, Head – Eros Labs & Strategic Advisor, Eros Now; Hosi Simon, CEO - APAC, Vice Media; and Karan Bajaj, Senior VP and General Manager, Discovery Communications.

Setting the preface for the discussion on how media has progressed in this multiscreen environment, Nachiket Pantvaidya mentioned that in last 12 months, telecoms have democratised the Internet in a way never seen before. It’s been offered for free to the consumers and the discussion would be structured around three points – who are the people watching content on the multiscreen, the creative economics of this multiscreen environment and the last one, what does it mean for storytelling. Are there new audiences coming in or is it the existing set? To this, Rian Bester replied, “Yesterday on radio we heard that the delivery mechanism is almost irregular – young people, but it is also shifting to the older lot. If you look at big content producers, they have started to produce content for all the generations. Smartphones are becoming cheaper, everyone has one, even my 80-year old mother, and people are consuming content on-the-go. Quality is really important in it. People first started talking about the content that’s drama, sports, but there is also a room for passionate community – we have always targeted the young community, but our content can be consumed by everyone. We see that from an age perspective there are no boundaries and if they exist they are widen.” 

Gaurav Gandhi further touched upon the topic of what is being watched on these platforms by stating that in a market where 95 per cent homes are single TV homes, the absolute screen domination that we have seen in the last two years has actually helped these homes get multiple TVs. So, there is no single TV home now as there are multiple screens provided, the biggest one being the mobile. We have seen a 4x growth in watch time as an industry at large. If one keeps YouTube or Facebook on for a minute, the remaining 90 per cent of the growth is from all the existing content seen on TV as well, whether its simultaneous or a catch up. In a matter of speaking, it’s the same content being watched on multiple screens and that’s pretty made our country’s average watch time move from three hours of TV to four and a half hours of video per say. Secondly, these are individuals or users who are disillusioned with the television economics in India. The economics of a TV business is driven by the existing BARC data, which allows you to make content of a particular format and type, and sets the pace of storytelling. Now, these people have moved away and digital originals have done the job what multiplexes did for the films, where every movie which was a masala, action, comedy and thriller could become a genre film and create visuals for those people. But it is hard to believe that this phenomenon is limited only to metros or the top 30 towns. It is very large and is going deeper and deeper. We see our platform going up to 2,000 towns and cities. I am sure Jio must be reaching much beyond that. It’s also regional and both existing content moving and newer opportunities coming. It is an ecosystem that will make our 3 hours a day go to 6 hours a day in the next few years. 

Pantvaidya then asked Karan Bajaj about how large the niche tribes they targeting were. Sharing some statistics, Bajaj said, “We launched ‘Veer’ for the people passionate about the military last month. We had projected that we would have some 100k odd subscribers in a month. We have 50k in a week now. Even we are surprised with the fact that there is a passionate base of consumers who just want military content 24x7. Niche is bigger than the population of our country. The money is where the market is. We launched Jeet, a GEC, and Netflix bought the entire content even before its launch. TV is growing by the fact that TV viewership of a GEC in our country is growing by 7x. On the other hand, we came across no conflict with Netflix buying all the content, the same consumer is watching multiple screens, multiple consumers are watching the same piece of content which is on TV and also on digital. Paulo Coelho after writing ‘The Alchemist’ put the book on digital and the sales skyrocketed.” 

When asked whether he thought mythology was better represented on the larger screen, Amish Tripathi (best known for his Meluha series) quipped that mythological stories are best told in a book. The multiscreen environment for mythology and other genres has radically changed. It used to be a great democratising tool. Today, the average role is getting killed. Now, either it’s everything or it’s a small niche. If you have everything, then your content plays across multiple platforms. Either you have everything or a niche. So, if you have an IP, it succeeds across all platforms. So, more content players giving big hits is very important. The beauty of the Internet is that you can actually see varied content.” 

When asked by Pantvaidya whether the multiscreen media is a conformist or a rebellious one, both Amish Tripathi and Saurabh Doshi agreed that technology will unleash a lot of creativity. The Shiva trilogy writer further elaborated that technology is essentially a turbo-boost to culture that exists already. Indians are rebellions and we believe in breaking rules. There are certain guidelines to police people, but then sometimes those can also lead to revolution and rebellious situation. Gaurav Gandhi noted here that every single screen will be connected for a two-way communication. “Access issue has been removed and the new world has already showcased its glimpses,” he said. 

Later, Amish Tripathi and Karan Bedi highlighted that content in the form of conversations travel across the world. “Having a large audience is one of our assets and all the content that we are creating for this massive audience easily goes on to any of the platforms. But creating content for one particular medium audience is difficult as everything is converging very fast. Advertising as a concept is not going away. We need a mechanism that is more standardised. Scale is critically important,” they added. 

On the other hand, for Karan Bajaj, it was not necessary to have all growth on scale. “Obsession for scale might not be a good thing,” he cautioned.

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