"We’ve broken the myth that you have to be multi-dimensional to win the game"
ALTBalaji has witnessed enormous growth during the Lockdown months. Beginning at 20 million subscriptions in the month of March, they grew their base to over 34 million in two months at a rate of 17,000 subscriptions/day. The company has attributed most of this growth to India’s Tier 2and 3 towns. The platform is breaking many myths in the OTT space – from the perception that small town users can’t pay to the stickiness of their Hindi language content.
In conversation with Adgully, Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji, and Group COO, Balaji Telefilms, takes us through the journey of the OTT platform to become one of the top 5 paid entertainment apps on Google Play.
What are the myths that you’re breaking with your content strategy?
ALTBalaji’s content strategy has been devised in such a way that subscribers will always have a mix of genres being launched at a point of time so the audiences can enjoy diversified content palette. There is always a long term and a short-term content strategy and our focus right now is to dominate the Hindi speaking market and diaspora across the globe and then eye the other language segments. However, within the world of original content dubbed in various languages, like Turkish shows dubbed in Hindi, that is another market to focus upon immediately. The myth that you have to be multi-dimensional to win the game has been broken by us. We have chosen to focus on Hindi speaking originals and have broken the glass ceiling by being one of the top 5 paid entertainment apps. We have almost 11-12 shows which have already been shot and are in various stages of post-production and 20-25 shows in the pipeline.
Are most of your subscribers are coming via your partner ecosystem? Do you plan to convert them into direct subscribers in the long term?
We do not have any partner ecosystem since the last almost 1 year, so this question isn’t very relevant in the current circumstances. We have seen 100% growth YOY on our direct subscriber base. Today, ALTBalaji has 8.5+ million monthly active users through direct subscriber base as well as a consumer spend time of 72 minutes per user.
In Q2 2019, you reported 54% of users were from Top 50 cities and 36% of subscribers were from outside of Top 50. How has that equation changed during the Lockdown?
During the lockdown, the number of digitally connected audiences consuming content in Hindi has increased. Going by the Q4 report, 44% of the consumer base belongs to the 8 big cities, including Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Pune, whereas 56% of our consumer base belongs to non-metro and Tier 2/Tier 3 towns and cities. We have realised the growing demand and consumption for Hindi originals by penetrating the hinterlands of the country. This exercise has helped us understand the needs of our subscribers better and helped us to curate more engaging and entertaining offerings that resonate with them.
What are the milestones in terms of consumption metrics you have achieved during the Lockdown?
ALTBalaji remains one of the Top 5 paid Apps in the country. As per our Q4 2019 results, our direct subscription revenue has grown over 100% year on year. We have witnessed a sharp rise of almost 20% in watch-time during the lockdown. The consumers have had a deeper engagement with the platform watching older library content. This lockdown, I believe, has accelerated digital growth across the globe and more so India that will lead to higher propensity for a consumer to pay.
How are you planning to deepen your partner ecosystem going forward? Have you observed new entertainment endpoints emerging post Lockdown?
Intending to leverage each other’s strengths in the OTT domain, ALTBalaji has collaborated with ZEE5 to co-create original content, which will only be available on both platforms. The content-sharing arrangement includes co-creation of Original content series (in Hindi), which will be available exclusively to SVOD subscribers of both platforms. This association is a collaborative process of co-understanding consumer insights and co-marketing to serve the viewer better and resulting in improved monetisation for both.
ZEE5 and ALTBalaji have established their content strength globally, and the synergy will result in two of the largest homegrown video streaming platforms coming together to expand their subscription base and grow the binge-watching culture globally. We believe that post-COVID-19 we will have 2 tracks running in parallel for content consumption, individual viewing as well as family viewing.
You've mainly inked distribution deals, barring ZEE5 content partnership. Will you continue to rely on your production strength to expand your content library?
I think on a broader level, the ZEE5 partnership has enabled ALTBalaji to continue to scale up rapidly its content library ambitions and focus on building the largest library of Hindi original shows in India.
Ever since ALTBalaji app has been launched, we have been focusing on creating a niche space in the Indian OTT industry and we have been successful. Our USP is original content narratives. While Balaji Telefilms does create a few shows for us, we also extensively with various other production houses for two different reasons, scale and different perspectives/genres. We believe in creating shows which appeal across segments through engaging stories and immersive narratives that are unique or untold. Our shows are a healthy mix of thriller, drama, romance, youth drama, horror, comedy among others.
What’s your view on the direct-to-OTT film releases? Is it a strategy ALTBalaji may adopt in the future?
With the advent of the lockdown, almost all forms of content are now being consumed digitally. Considering the change in behaviour of content consumption, direct-to-OTT is the need of the hour for producers. While the experience of watching a movie in the theatre can’t be compared with home-watching, we do need to understand that there are certain movies that can be released on OTT platforms, while big budget might have to wait for theatrical release first. At ALTBalaji, we may not focus on spending big dollars to acquire a film as it doesn’t fit in our overall content strategy and business module.
Do you intend to deepen viewership in the North East and South markets going forward?
We will gradually move towards other language markets as well in the coming years. Our core focus right now is covering the Hindi Hinterlands. Taking these Hindi offerings to regional and global audiences, many of our shows have also been dubbed in other Indian and International languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bhasa, Arabic, etc., among others.
How has your production pipeline fared during the Lockdown? Have you been able to keep releasing content?
It has fared reasonably well. We launched a very Delhi-style comedy-drama ‘Who’s Your Daddy’ featuring Rahul Dev and YouTuber Harsh Beniwal. The second season of our popular show, ‘Baarish’, opened to good reviews and strong numbers that features Sharman Joshi and Asha Negi in lead roles along with a cameo by legendary actor Jeetendra. Additionally, after two successful seasons, our show, ‘Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain’, has Season 3 launched, which features Ronit Roy, Gurdip Punjj, and Mona Singh in the lead roles.
Within the ambit of Hindi content, what is the opportunity to grow your audience base, till you look at new audiences?
The language market has a huge scope for OTT players to explore the segment and expand their footprint by tapping deeper into Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets through locally relatable content. According to an industry report by KPMG, titled ‘Unravelling the digital video consumer’, 64% of India’s digital video consumers prefer consuming content in Hindi and therefore it makes sense for us to first focus on dominating Hindi speaking markets in India as well as Hindi speaking diaspora across the globe.
Do you have a target for subscribers that you could share? How far have you progressed on the road to profitability as an OTT platform?
We are the first OTT platform already on the road to profitability and are aiming to break even in 2020-2021. Our direct subscription revenue has grown over 100% as compared to FY19. ALTBalaji is amongst the top 5 paid apps in the country and our strategy has been ahead of the trends and its times as far as content creation, partnerships or marketing are concerned. Normally, we have tried to read the markets early on and this can only happen when the organisation is lean, sharp, and quick to react.