The launch of Netflix in India has seen the OTT (over-the-top) platform buzzing with entry of new players. Competition intensified in March with the rollout of Voot, a 50:50 joint venture between Viacom18 & Reliance Industries and US-based Vuclip’s Viu.
Viacom18, which announced Voot last October, is the latest broadcast network player to enter this space. Speaking about the launch of this OTT platform, Gaurav Gandhi, Chief Operating Officer - Viacom18 Digital Ventures said, “We are launching at a time when 4G and fibre-to-home will come shortly and change the game forever. We are at the cusp of the explosion of digital space. Secondly our pillars of strategy like comedy, drama, reality, kids and originals are built around extensive learning by BCG (the Boston Consulting Group) on consumption of YouTube videos.”
Launched in early March, Viu claims to cater to the entertainment needs of diverse Indian audience. “We have partnered with some of the top production houses and content owners such as Reliance Big Entertainment, Sony Music, Zee Digital Convergence, Tips, Balaji Motion Pictures, Rajshri Entertainment and BBC Worldwide,” says Arun Prakash, Chief Operating Officer, Vuclip.
The service has been launched with 17,000 hours of content across Bollywood (with 70% movies from Bollywood’s Rs. 100 crore club in the catalogue), English like ‘The Kennedy’s’, ‘Olympus’ and ‘The Clean Break’ and regional in more than ten languages. Add to it 3,000 hours of music in the form of music videos from Bollywood and western artists.
Original programming wise, they have launched a comedy-cricket talk show called ‘What the Duck’ under Viu Originals. Hosted by stand-up comedian Vikram Sathaye, the show “marries cricket and humour in a 13 minutes per episode format.” The format has been decided based on the findings of their quarterly surveys, called Global Video Insights (GVI).
Not leading behind, Voot also has similar hours of content, including archives from the network’s broadcast library, and bets big on its large repository of original content. ‘Voot Originals’ has six web-series including Bollywood actor Gulshan Grover-starrer ‘Badman,’ ‘Sinskari’, a talk show hosted by actor Alok Nath and musician Baba Sehgal’s comedy, ‘Soadies’.
“We are planning to have one original or fresh new season every month. If it’s a film we will be rolling it out in a phased manner or binge watching. It’s about taking feedback from the viewer and extending your shows as per the demand,” offers Gandhi. Most of the content comes from production firms such as Endemol Shine India, Saurabh Tiwari Films and Bodhi Tree among others.
Voot also has a dedicated section with the biggest repository of kids’ characters in India, from ‘Dora’ to ‘Motu Patlu’ to ‘Chhota Bheem’. “We will be the largest online premium kid’s library with 7,000 kids’ videos and 80 characters,” claims Gandhi. Amongst features there is a parental control which doesn’t let children watch anything except the kid’s content, while Chromecast and offline viewing features will be added soon.
However it’s lacking on the international shows which Gandhi and his Voot team are currently working on. “AVOD market for international content is still very nascent and small, so acquiring rights for international shows is a challenge,” he confesses.
Free vs paid content
Unlike Netflix, Viu opts for a dual pricing model where some content can be viewed whereas their premium content, like the latest movies and Viu’s originals, costs users Rs 99 per month. “We offer a unique ‘freemium’ model where consumers have the option to view content for free if they choose to. For an ad free experience or premium content there is ‘first on Viu’, available at a small fee,” offers Prakash. This OTT service also has one-month free trial period and there is no tiered pricing to it.
Voot’s monetization and revenue plan is largely advertisement driven as Viacom18 is keen to exploit the growth of digital advertising in future which has the prospects of growing up to Rs 6,000 crore by 2020. So, who are the advertisers here? “Early guys (advertisers) who come on digital or YouTube are seen on TV. We have started seeing lot of interest from local retail partners and e-commerce players who want to target specific audience. We are going to exploit that,” shares Gandhi. He is not ruling out subscriber-based service but there’s no definite date for it yet.
While Netflix is clear about limiting its audience to the top five-odd percent of tech savvy Indian consumers, its California-based competitor Vuclip is gung ho about the mass market. “We have prepared our business to cater to the entertainment needs of a much broader audience range, from metros and tier-i to tier-iii cities across India. We believe in the democratization of entertainment and expanding its reach and availability rather than restricting it to elite few. Our ‘freemium’ model helps us achieve this mission and business goals,” Prakash elaborated.
Gandhi has put forth an aggressive goal for Voot. Speaking about it, he adds, “We are putting ourselves a task of getting between two and three million daily active users by the end of the first year, as mobile penetration goes deeper. We are looking at all kind of audiences.” It’s targeting a sizeable share of the digital video market both in terms of audiences and revenues.
Speaking about the low bandwidth speed in India and how he plans to tide over such challenges, Prakash explains, “We have realized the current market challenges, including data-intensive video streaming and infrastructural constraints in emerging markets, which are characterized by patchy network connectivity. We address these challenges with our patented Dynamic Transcoding Technology that optimizes videos and enables users to mitigate data costs and makes them enjoy a good buffer-free viewing experience. There’s also an offline download feature for watching videos.”
Competition heats up
Prakash is unfazed by the competition on this platform which includes Fox's Star India-backed Hotstar, Hooq, backed by Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Singapore Telecom and Eros International's ErosNow, among others. In fact he terms Netflix’s entry as ‘a positive event in the market.’ “This market is large enough for multiple dominant players and consolidation is likely,” he further adds.
Gandhi agrees and at the same time is confident about Voot’s ‘unmatched content offering. “What will get us significant amount of volume is our content from network channels, our strong and unmatched kid’s portfolio and our strategy around originals. We are going to be top three players in the market,” he states assuredly.