Taking on a multi-platform approach in distribution, To The New Venture’s (TTNV), digital content based platform #fame, is all set to expand across South East Asia over the next three months in local languages. Apart from building digital video channels with celebrity as well as emerging talent, #fame’s content strategy also involves creating digital IPs through innovative digital shows and formats in genres such as food, fashion, music, comedy and technology.
The company recently launched ‘#fame Websinger’ in association with Close-UP and singer Pritam. Saket Saurabh, CEO, #fame talks about the company’s plans and the opportunities they hope to tap into.
#fame recently announced the launch of Close-Up Websinger. Can you tell us briefly what the property is about and how it fits into #fame’s growth plans?
Websinger is a key part of our talent strategy. When we started out a year ago we were clear that we wanted to make large scale impact properties on digital. Digital is no longer a third or fourth medium; it’s now the first medium. And now is the time to create large IPs which will deliver both reach and engagement. For the longest time, digital was seen as a support medium. But that’s no longer the case. We bring talent discovery and content together in our properties. We started out with Lakme School of Style, which is a fashion blogger focussed property. And in line with that we focussed on music which is a huge genre on digital and came up with Websinger. It’s just begun. We’ve partnered with Pritam and other well-known music mentors.
In a country where talent shows on TV have seen tremendous popularity, do you think the same story will play out on digital?
The single biggest challenge is not tech or infrastructure. Growth of smartphones and huge appetite for digital consumption – the successes of AIB and TVF, what they tell us is that digital video consumption is going through the roof. If you see the growth of Facebook or YouTube in India, these platforms are seeing that kind of growth because one, there is that kind of consumption and secondly, because there is supply to match. We want to build Websinger into THE platform for online singing and talent discovery.
The biggest challenge today in digital is getting discovered. There is oversupply of content in that sense. How do you become part of a format that helps you skill up as an artist and a format that allows you or your content to get discovered and consumed very seamlessly and quickly? That’s really what Websinger’s value is to its consumers. The way it differs from what’s happening on TV today is that the idea here is not really about creating reality drama, the idea is to hone and discover that talent and ultimately produce work which is great for consumers. For us powerful content is our main goal which should also be entertaining and in this process these guys move up from being pure amateurs to semi-professionals.
The traditional barriers to digital video content – tech and access and internet penetration – those barriers will start to fall away much faster than people realise. In that context there is a lot of content. Digital is a natural native platform for amateur UGC content. You don’t find UGC content on any other medium because no other medium is designed to absorb UGC content the way digital and digital video platforms can. So in that context there is a lot of supply. The entry barriers for a performer to reach an audience are collapsing. For a company like #fame, our job is to ensure that the journey of a performer is successful and we have met our objective of great content.
How do you see #fame vis-a-vis other MCN’S that are occupying the same space?
We don’t see ourselves as a MCN. We are really a tech and content platform and that’s the reason we developed the app. Our idea is really to create large scale properties and to ensure that a lot of young talent gets discovered. We are focussed on creating original content meant for the digital platform and that it has not been served very well in India so far and there is a huge opportunity to do that and we see signs of that across the board. We are not the only ones trying to occupy that space. There are a bunch of OTT platforms that are also focussing on original content. The idea of creating digital content made for digital or made for the mobile phone is now very much mainstream.
What are your monetization streams and how do you plan to further business growth?
For now our big monetization lines are obviously advertising and sponsorships which is an important and a critical revenue line. And the other one which we will look at is the gamification stream. In the immediate short term we are not looking at creating a pay wall or subscription window but as we expand that could become an option. But it’s not a short term option and is something we will continue to evaluate. I don’t think audiences are ready to pay for content on digital as of today. There have been attempts made in this direction with live sports and I think that’s a great opportunity. Because to make audiences pay for content, the content really has to be exclusive and premium or it has to be extremely habit forming. Both are important but difficult goals to achieve. Audiences will start paying but not anytime soon. It isn’t a question of if but of when. Also now audiences are used to paying on digital through e-commerce. E-commerce has made people friendly to the idea of using gateways, credit cards, payment wallets. That major shift in behaviour has already happened thanks to other categories. So now it’s really upto content creators and networks to be able to put stuff behind the pay wall which is compelling enough. I do believe it’s going to move slowly here but it’s happening across the world and it’s only a matter of time before India catches on. Live sports is one of the best ways to look at how this trend will evolve. Even in the west pay per view and all of that evolved from sports. So in the immediate term for us, advertising is going to continue to play a big role but hopefully, over the next two to three years you might see the shift happening.
You mentioned gamification. What are your plans in this arena?
We are already working on that – the build-out of the platform. The platform is essentially a marketplace. You’ve got the supply side which is the talent coming in from across the country. We’ve had more than 50,000 performers already gone live on the app in the past 90-odd days. We expect that number to get close to a lakh in the next six to eight months. So that traction is great on the supply side. On the demand side there is obviously the viewers. So as a talent and performer marketplace which is what the #fame app is we feel there is a great opportunity to build an incentive program where performers gain more if they do well and viewers also participate and build a relationship with performers. Our idea will revolve around that philosophy.
How important a role do bloggers and vloggers play in the digital space today?
They represent the paradigm shift that the industry has seen in the last two years. They represent the democracy of digital. Vloggers today wield considerable influence with audiences. Traditionally 20 years ago audience influence was captive to media networks, large scale institutions and organisations. Today that is no longer the case. Today a great strong blogger whether it’s a fashion blogger or a comedian or a musician can have their own audience which is loyal and consistent and which in a sense listens to them. Bloggers, vloggers are a great sign of what’s happening. For us as a company bloggers are absolutely central to our strategy and one of the reasons why we thought the time for our model has come because we could see that what is a trickle today, will be a storm tomorrow. We engage with them on a daily basis, a lot of bloggers have already adopted the #fame platform.
You engage with several brands on #fame. How has content marketing evolved and what are the trends you see playing out in this area?
We work with over 20 pedigree brands so far across various kinds of content ideas. We work across brands and categories and by the end of the year we are looking at expanding this roster to 50-60 top brands. I see one phenomenon very clearly which is that brands have realised that content marketing is perhaps the highest level of marketing. Brands want to create engaging content, they all have inventory needs, they all have awareness programs and that will continue. So, mainstream inventory media buying is not going to go away. But what brands are realising is that in order to move their core consumer up the value chain they need to engage very differently. And digital plays a very, very important role in that.
What is the kind of ROI that brands are seeing in digital video?
The beauty of digital is that it is not a sample. It’s a census. The fact is when you are going and looking at data from any digital video platform that data is absolute to a great extent. And the kind of analytics that digital provides naturally as a medium is perhaps unmatched by other mediums. So what I personally see and different brands are working at different trajectories, but the ones that are really leading this curve, they have realised that its different horses for different courses. They have realised that television is not going to go away and its importance is categories like GEC and sports is not going to diminish anytime soon. But brands have also realised that if they have to engage and add depth to their brand stories then they have to get on to digital. And they have to create something that is customised and compelling as a format and as an idea. So it’s no more about making a 30-second commercial and a 20-second edit for YouTube – that can’t be a digital strategy. The digital strategy has to be a lot deeper than that. I think some categories and some brands have shown a lot more leadership there and others are perhaps catching on a little bit slowly. But that’s only the natural evolution of the market.
#fame has its own app which it launched in May this year. And its available on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. Is there no conflict there?
We do have our videos on YouTube. We don’t see them or Facebook or any other platform as competition. Our app is focussed fundamentally on live streaming. We feel that it’s a complimentary ecosystem. And this is very different from the TV mindset. Classical distribution was built with the idea that you have to build walls. How do you build walls around your content so that you are able to keep the audience captive? The digital mindset is how do you build an ecosystem which is complimentary and audience loyalty. And so, for us, Facebook, YouTube or any other platform, including chat platforms, are all complimentary, not competition. It’s about how we program and what our focus is – the app is obviously central to our distribution strategy but other platforms will continue to play a complimentary role. It’s about working the whole system rather than playing favourites.