OTT is going to be a content game: Gautam Talwar, MX Player

MX Player recently made their first foray into original regional content with the title ‘Queen’, based on Anita Sivakumaran’s book of the same name. The OTT platform roped in national award winning director Prashanth Murugesan, co-Director Gautam Menon, written by Reshma Ghatala and with Ramya Krishnan playing the lead role.

The show breaks away from MX Player typical 18-30 year old focus on male audience and ventures into uncharted territory with a gripping political drama. The platform is known for metro focused shows like ‘Hey Prabhu’, ‘Aafat’, ‘Thinkistan’ and more universally beloved shows like ‘Famously Filmfare’, ‘Bollywood Buzzinga’, and ‘Only for Singles’.

Gautam Talwar, who leads content at MX Player, says that unlike their previous shows, “‘Queen’ was an example of a universal show which had a broader appeal and took us a year and a half to put together. The original series was shot in Tamil with Hindi and English dubs.”

The demand for the show on social media platforms prompted MX Player to announce a Telugu dub which they will be releasing soon. According to Talwar, the lesson from the success of ‘Queen’ is that if the story is universal, the content can travel across the country, be it Tamil or Bhojpuri.

MX Player is planning an expansive content slate for 2020, largely focused on building their regional content portfolio. They have acquired the hit shows ‘Aani Kay Hava’ and ‘Pandu’ and will ensure they offer original shows in all the Indian languages. They are planning to launch 20 original shows across 10 different languages in the first quarter of 2020.

Talwar shares a glimpse into what is yet to come, “The next show coming out of our stable will be a big Marathi show. We have roped in top Marathi talent like Swapnil Joshi with Satish Rajwade directing the series. There is another series in the pipeline featuring Anuja Sathe. There are plans for series in Bhojpuri, Bengali, Punjabi, and Telugu languages. Most of our audience comes from the Tier 2 and 3 and content in their language works better.”

In an interaction with Adgully, Gautam Talwar, Chief Content Officer at MX Player, explains how they are learning and evolving with the OTT ecosystem. Edited excerpts:

You have created 16 shows in 2019, what has been the learning from those shows? How will it reflect in your content slate for 2020?
Right now, the audience’s experience with long format shows has been on television, which typically caters to a female audience. Our core target audience, who is a male in the 18-30 age group, does not have too many options on TV. We have to figure out if these viewers gravitate to crime, thriller, erotica, and create those shows as well. One of the learnings from Queen has been that shows in regional languages should be dubbed in other languages and that is going to be a key strategy going forward.

We have a busy content slate of 20 original shows till March 2020, 15 of which are ready to be rolled out. The last five are still in production and will be ready by March. Our content pipeline is completely blocked till the year 2021.

Our content mix includes shows acquired from Sony, TVF, Dice, Pocket Aces, Arre and our original shows. Shows from other platforms, like ‘Cheesecake’ from TVF, have done pretty well for us and we will keep adding new shows as part of our long term output deal. But we also plan to make a bunch of originals ourselves.

The digital space allows you to understand how well a piece of content has performed from every aspect. Everything we have done in the past gives us a clear indicator on what will work for the future. We will cease to create whatever hasn’t worked for us but we’ve done well as far as originals are concerned.

How are you driving synergy between the brand and the content?
We are going to ensure that brands get a sense of integration on our shows. Last year, Too Yum won an award for integration on the show ‘Love Ok Please’. There is some content synergy at the script level and other synergy at post level. Since some brands come on board earlier and other brands watch the show, like it and come on board later, we will keep experimenting with these two models.

Do you believe that eventually the top OTT players will be the ones who churn out the most content?
While OTT is going to be a content game, we are all growing at the same pace. However, video consumption is growing at a phenomenal pace in this country and the data indicates that most data is consumed to view video.

This ecosystem is going to develop for the next 3-5 years and all of us are going to learn and grow together. The question is, what cinematic values are you going to create while developing high end programming for the end consumer?

Will the walled garden outlook around exclusive content see a change?
The business models are still evolving. There are two clear models – AVOD and SVOD, and we are an AVOD platform. Then there is the freemium model, which is a bit of both. In time, there will be a business model that makes sense to all of us, but until that time we are all co-existing happily.

Do you intend to explore content formats that are not video?
We have already begun experimenting with gaming. MX Player is an entertainment platform that is looking to engage the end user. Not just content, but any format is welcome. We’ve just launched a few casual games on the app and will do a lot more than just video.

Another interesting capability we are building is interactivity. We are not just looking at non-fiction shows, but want to bring some level of interactivity with all forms of content. For the last two years we have been building some level of interactivity element into the app.

What are the key content trends that you expect in 2020?
Interactivity is going to be a big trend and we need to understand how to build that capability for the end user. It has to be simple enough for audiences from Tier 2 and markets to engage on a platform level.

Overall, the ecosystem is going to develop quality content for the audience with no bars on storytelling. If you can bring some level of interactivity into that it’s going to be a game changer.

Have content budgets escalated?
Budgets have escalated and it has become expensive to create content. India is a content hungry country and there is an issue on the supply side. There are only so many performers and creators in the ecosystem and we are all running at full capacity.

While OTT is trying to create its own reach, it still requires the same supply chain. The interesting and challenging bit will be to see how the supply chain grows and how we evolve with the user. Costs are going to increase no doubt, but we are committed to making those investments.

When do you think video consumption will show signs of a slowdown?
I don’t see that trend going down. Eventually, there are going to be format changes and the balance between long format and short format content is going to shift. The consumer has limited time and we are all fighting for it.


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