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Regional content, compelling stories will drive OTT space in 2018: Manav Sethi

Ever since its launch on April 16, 2017, ALTBalaji, the multi-device Video On Demand platform from Balaji Telefilms, has gone from strength to strength. The ad free, subscription based platform is available in over 80 countries, offering shows in various genres such as romance, mystery, drama, and comedy. 

The platform launched its big ticket web series – ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’ – in November. Starring Rajkummar Rao as Bose, the web series was heavily promoted across media. 

Calling ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’, ALTBalaji’s biggest show of the year, Manav Sethi, CMO, ALTBalaji, said, “Something of this scale has never been done before in India for a web show. The team researched for 6 months and then took another 10 months to write the show. We then took almost 8 months to shoot it across Mumbai, Leh, Kolkata, Poland and Thailand. And for first time since the launch, #ALTBalajiOriginal ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’ is also available to JIO consumers on JIOCinema.”  

In conversation with Adgully, Manav Sethi, CMO, ALTBalaji, speaks at length on the trends and developments expected in the OTT space in 2018. He also shares the details of the making and marketing of ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’ without having a big budget in hand. Excerpts: 

What kind of trends do you foresee in the OTT space in 2018?
We will see a lot more regional content in the OTT space in 2018. Apple and Facebook have globally announced their entry display, but I don’t know how far it will affect the Indian market. At a global level, you will see a lot more activity in 2018 apart from Netflix. Ad funded OTT platforms will have to do some soul searching, with 67 per cent of the total ad revenues online going to Facebook and Google. At the end of day, any ad funded model in order to grow has to run behind traffic and end up paying Facebook and Google, and that’s kind of Holy Grail. 2018 will compel such platforms which live only on ads to focus more on creating original and good quality shows. However, this is not an easy task because India does not have a studio ecosystem in place. My belief is that in 2018 there will be only 4-5 platforms that will be focusing on creating real, emotional and entertaining stories, because at the end of day stories are more important than the platforms. 

What would be the focus areas for ALTBalaji in 2018?
Our focus is very clear – we will continue to produce original shows in 2018. Netflix has announced at a global level that it will create 1,000 hours of original content this year itself. We as an industry or as a country don’t produce 1,000 hours of original shows, but here the idea is that we would want to grab as many stories across not only Hindi but regional languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Punjabi, Marathi, etc., as well. We are also looking at Bhojpuri language. We have about 50 shows and concepts at various stages of development right now and our focus will be to launch those in times to come. 

What are the content trends that you foresee in the OTT space going forward?
What we have seen so far is that if the content is compelling enough, people are ready to watch it on streaming, whereas earlier people only used to watch it on Wi-Fi. Our analysis shows that people have started consuming the shows on the move and it is not that they are consuming at a particular location through Wi-Fi. People are watching within 24 hours of the show going live and also consuming all the episodes at one go. ALTBalaji has changed the notion that India doesn’t pay for content, in fact India is paying for content. It all depends on what you are selling. That is a very strong notion that ALTBalaji has broken. 

What are the technological advancement expected in 2018?
From the technological standpoint, there is a lot of data that we as platform and others are creating. The technology will be used in creating such options which will make the entire consumption experience more compelling. It will make recommendation engine more brilliant and high predictable. A mass shift is seen with TV viewing on the decline, even as online viewing is growing at 100-200 per cent per year. So, both from an advertiser’s standpoint and from consumption standpoint there is a lot of data which will come out in the open and this will allow them to reach the core TG that they have been wanting to reach. 

What new tie-ups can we expect in 2018?
We are open for collaborations, provided one has the strength to execute, and when I say execution, it means to create, write, production, etc. So, we are always open to those areas of collaboration. 

What are your plans around regional content?
We have already launched regional comedy, we have launched a show in Tamil and are also looking at all the languages mentioned earlier (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Punjabi, Marathi). The important point is how does a company, which comprises a small team of 70 people and is based out of Fun Republic, Andheri, launches a global platform specialising in 80 countries and is also India’s first ad free subscription platform taking head on all its competitors having big networks and large budgets. 

The making & marketing of ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’ 

What was your marketing strategy for ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’?
We are very careful about how we spend our money. We don’t have the luxury of huge budgets like other OTT platforms. We had less than Rs 5 crore to spend and so it was very important to look at how we spent our last penny. About 70 per cent of the total budget was allocated for digital. It’s not like we went ahead and bought all the site takeovers, we were very clear on how we were going to spend even that. So, we identified affinity segments based on language, which was largely Hindi, English and Bengali. We then created geographical segments because we realised that for a show like this, which has a story that has not been told earlier, the top 10 metros or last 10 metros would play a role. We created multiple creatives of the show across multiple platforms. We built that with very smart social media and innovative PR strategy. 

It also helped that Republic TV did a 30-minute episode on ‘Bose’ and why the story was so important and what all had been the key ingredients in creating the story. We had Rajkummar Rao tweeting and inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the screening. This created huge awareness and buzz on the launch of the show. We had focuses primarily on digital, followed by rest of the media platforms. The campaign continued for three weeks campaign, where we focused more on the show rather than the platform.

Who have partnered with you for the campaign?
For digital, we have worked very closely with an agency called Sokrati, which is a part of Dentsu. Lodestar UM is our media agency, while Whiteriver Digital (WRD) is our social agency. These are the three agencies that have worked very closely and are behind the success and the buzz that has been created.

How have you worked on making ‘Bose: Dead/Alive’ more acceptable or connect with the youth of today?
A lot of research. We spent about 18 months on research and another 6 months on the script. Some part of the writing and research also overlaps. We were very careful as the topic itself is so sensitive and so close to every Indian’s heart. There is not a lot of material out in the open, so you have to look at what all secondary material you have. Fortunately, when we started to work on it, we realised that Prime Minister Modi had called for declassifying Bose’s files which were hitherto not available to the public. We worked very hard on the show to bring out the authenticity and not just shoot it in studios and sets. The team travelled to Poland, Thailand, Leh, Kolkata and Mumbai. Before this no show of Indian origin had been shot outside the country, and thus a lot of investment has gone into the making of the show. When you read the tweets, a lot of people after watching the show have commented that this is the first time that a Netflix-type quality show has come out from India.

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