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We won’t buy reach through heavy & unrewarding marketing spends: Prashant Panday

After dominating the music and entertainment space for the last 20 years, Mirchi has now made inroads in the digital audio OTT space with the launch of Mirchi Plus. Continuing its digital journey in becoming a phone-first brand, the Mirchi Plus app offers a huge library of original audio stories, podcasts, Mirchi’s videos, entertainment news and more.

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With over hundreds of hours of audio content and marquee shows, Mirchi brings its app for the audiences to avail their favourite Mirchi content anytime, anywhere on the go. As a multi-format, multi-content, hyperlocal brand Mirchi has curated its app to cater to different markets by featuring content in various regional languages on their app.

Today, audio stories are a huge market opportunity because it sits squarely in the middle of the general entertainment opportunity. People love audio and stories. Right now, their focus will be to put great content and drive listeners through their exciting and interesting content.

In conversation with Adgully, Prashant Panday, MD & CEO, ENIL (Mirchi), speaks at length about te strategy for Mirchi Plus and how they will leverage their vast content and delight their subscribers, growth of the music OTT business, and more.

The audio OTT opportunity can create an inflection point for the Indian recorded music industry. What is Mirchi Plus’ objective to enter this space and what kind of downloads are targeted?

In my opinion, the music OTTs have already created the requisite inflection point for the music industry. Today, a bulk of the music royalties that labels earn comes from music OTTs. The 300-350 million monthly users reach of music OTTs is impressive. What we are attempting to do with Mirchi Plus is not related to music, but to other formats of audio content. For now, our focus is on audio stories. We believe that audio stories are a huge market opportunity because it sits squarely in the middle of the general entertainment opportunity. People love audio and stories. Thus, we believe that we are ideally placed to cater to this need! Right now, I don’t want to focus on download and usership targets. Our focus is on putting out great content, and letting the content do the pulling. We have more than 350 creative people working within our company, and each one of them has multiple stories to tell. That aside, we are commissioning work from outside talent as well. Plus, there are a number of marquee shows in the pipeline, the first one which has just been released is ‘1000 crore ki laash’, voiced by Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Mirchi has a widely spread-out TG. Who do you plan to target with Mirchi Plus and could you elaborate the profile of this audience which will be different?

The original Radio Mirchi TG used to be tightly defined as 18-25 MF, SEC AB (or later NCCS AB1). However, over time, the radio listeners’ profile evolved and moved towards 25-45, more Male, more NCCS A, with bull’s eye at about 30. So, there was an ageing of the FM radio universe. A lot of radio consumption started happening in cars, and that explains the new listener profile. It was an older profile, but a richer one.

Online users are, however, much younger. Almost 75% of them are in the 18-34 age group. In an NCCS context, it is far more egalitarian (when there are 800 million Internet users, the NCCS definition is bound to be very wide. This is commonly referred to Bharat. There is a slight male skew in Internet audiences, but not too much. Our TG for Mirchi Plus is clearly this one. We are very familiar with this TG. And we will be catering to it. This is why our content is vernacular, young-sounding and aspirational at the same time!

You have recently ventured into this market. How do you plan to differentiate and win more listeners although you have an advantage of being a leader in the radio space?

The audio stories market is currently in its infancy. We believe there are hardly 25-30 million listeners of audio stories. Contrast that with 225 million radio listeners, 875 million TV viewers (mostly entertainment), 350 million music listeners and 700 million Internet users! At this point, there is no plan to segment the market. We are entering the market with the intention to grow it. We will work alongside other players. We don’t see them as competitors because we need to come together to help develop the market.

However, we have created a unique product. For starters, we are focusing on ‘human-curating’ all the content that we put on the platform. This means that rather than offering ‘lakhs’ of hours of stories, we will offer a few thousand hours but each one will be a great pick. Secondly, we are strong in entertainment, and so we will treat our stories with the respect that any entertainment product requires. We will release new shows on Fridays with the same treatment that entertainment products entail, including running promos featuring celebrities! Thirdly, we will spend money on producing high-quality marquee shows featuring celebrities. We have an app with great UI/UX, we have a solid brand, we have some of the most creative people in the industry, all of these together is our differentiating factor. We will not be overspending on ‘buying’ reach.

As usual, content again will drive this space. How do you plan to draw fresh and exciting content to make it interesting and attractive to listeners to download the app?

As mentioned earlier, the whole focus is on content. We have strengths in vernacular content and that’s a thrust area for us. Right now, we have offered content in 10 languages. Just look at the Southern entertainment industry. They are the biggest in India in movies, they are super strong on TV and music, but when it comes to audio content, they are trailing. We will attempt to bridge this gap. Likewise, we will be catering to the latent demand in other languages apart from Hindi and English. By human-curating the stories, we plan to make it easier for users to choose and play what they like. As mentioned earlier, the 350 creative people of Mirchi along with thetalent from outside will focus on creating audio stories. Stories featuring celebrities will be the showstoppers!

How do you plan to position Mirchi Plus in a crowded segment? What’s going to be your marketing and promotional strategy to drive downloads? 

AsI said, we don’t believe it is a crowded segment and so we are not going to segment the market. We have positioned Mirchi Plus for now as ‘Kahaniyon ka asli adda’. It’s a simple promise, and it is what we stand for. Like I said, we are not going to buy reach through heavy and unrewarding marketing spends. We will let our content pull the users into our fold. We have had so many successes with this strategy. For example, on YouTube, we generated 100 million views from our content in just the month of June 2022. We did no marketing to get those numbers. Great content is our focus. And great content is also our marketing strategy.

What’s going to be your monetisation strategy to drive revenues?

There are multiple options available for monetisation. All will happen in due course of time. There is a sponsorship model, which works quite effectively in India as well as abroad. Remember, content on our platform is exclusive to us, and so (unlike for music OTTs), getting sponsorship revenues is relatively easier. Then there are advertising revenues, both direct and programmatic. The audio programmatic market is underdeveloped at the moment, but we believe we will be able to develop it, given our 10,000+ relationships with clients and our strong ad-production experience with audio ads. We also have a strong product called ‘Solutions’, in which we address an advertiser’s marketing challenge by developing multi-media solutions. We believe that audio stories can work in tandem with other media in addressing the marketing challenges of advertisers. The Solutions business is our big strength, and we will deploy it for our platform. There are many other revenue opportunities like tipping writers, developing story IPs into other media formats, creating on-ground and digital events and, so on. A lot of action will be seen in the next 5 years.

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