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'Aha is happy being the local language app of the country'

Ajit Thakur, CEO, aha and Allu Arvind, Promoter, aha, speak about aha Tamil's growth plans and strategies and the road ahead

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Published: May 4, 2022 8:34 AM  | 7 min read
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After witnessing success in Telugu, aha recently entered the Tamil market. Allu Arvind, Promoter, aha and Ajit Thakur, CEO, aha, are betting big as they are set to offer a significant amount of content with a local flavour. aha is also all to go down the AVOD route in the next couple of months. Video-on-demand streaming service aha recently launched aha Tamil with content that includes Tamil originals, web series, non-fiction shows and theatrical content slate with a proposition of 100% Tamil Celebration, and priced at Rs 365/year.

Owned by Arha Media & Broadcasting Private Limited - a joint venture by Geetha Arts and My Home Group - aha launched in 2020 with a 100% Telugu OTT and the promise of 100% local entertainment. Aha Telugu gained one million subscribers within a year of its launch and has now clocked over 1.8 million paid subscribers and 27 million plus downloads to become the preferred OTT platform for Telugu viewers. Commenting on why aha chose Tamil after Telugu Allu Arvind, Promoter, aha says, “Tamil Nadu is one the largest internet consumption markets in the country and the consumption of content is high. This is a large market and this was a major reason for us to enter this market. There is strong competition here and we will have to pull up our socks and run. Also, I have an affinity for Tamil as I spent my childhood in Chennai.”

Replicating The Success Of aha Telugu

Allu Arvind, Promoter, aha

Aha Tamil is all set to replicate this success and the buzzword is ‘hyperlocal.’ Arvind explains,We are going one step ahead of local by going hyperlocal and 100% Tamil reflects this.  When we say hyper-local, it means that our content will be local, customised and will showcase and reflect the ethnic problems and the culture of  the Tamil diaspora  wherever they are based, whether  in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Middle East or anywhere else globally.” Aha is also tapping young talent and writers from the interiors of the state to create content for the platform. While the platform has a dedicated ‘Listening Post’ in Chennai, the agenda is to set up similar listening posts in places such as Trichy and other parts of the state. This is an attempt to engage writers throughout the state and gather insights to tell local stories.

A key differentiator for aha is that when a user chooses their preferred language, say Tamil, the viewer will only be served Tamil content, thereby maintaining 100% nativity. aha’s marketing strategy goes not just deep and wide within the state to the Tier III, Tier IV towns and rural areas but will also target the Tamil audience globally. A key feature in aha Telugu was the commitment to release new content every Friday. Ajit Thakur, CEO, aha says, “Despite the lockdown, we managed to release new content – a new show/episode, film or non-fiction series - for our viewers every week. We intend to do the same at aha Tamil where we will give our viewers something new every week because we believe that the local language content is underserved. Many platforms have Tamil OTT content but they're doing three to five shows in a year. We will have fifty. We have engaged with all the leading film and TV producers and want to provide local content built along with a young talented in-house team.” He adds, “Good stories will create markets and that market will create revenue. It's not the other way around. If you don't have storytellers you can't create a successful OTT is my belief.”

The aha Model

Ajit Thakur, CEO of aha

What sets aha’s business model from other players is that the Telugu and Tamil numbers will be a completely separate count as the company sees both propositions as two distinct local apps. Thakur says, “The easiest thing for our promoters was to tell us to just keep adding languages, we're not doing that. We are creating new app in every market, aha Tamil is run by a completely local team.” Thakur believes that this move could prove beneficial for aha even when it comes to acquisitions. He adds, “Acquisition costs and the competition in Tamil is higher than in Telugu. That's why our local positioning and the local team will give us the advantage over others who are running out of Mumbai.”

Aha Telugu has actors Vijay Devarakonda and Allu Arjun as brand ambassadors with both also having an investor stake in aha. For aha Tamil, actor Silambarasan aka Simbu and music composer Anirudh Ravichander have come on-board as brand ambassadors. Thakur says, “As per our model, our brand ambassadors have the option to be investors. While our brand ambassadors for aha Tamil are currently not investors but the intent is that they have the option to become an investor at any point in time.”

When it comes to monetization, Thakur candidly says that subscription alone will not cover the total cost of operations particularly since the platform’s ambition is to stream huge amounts of content. aha is looking at  three-four things “that will help us monetize better and break even faster than anybody in the OTT industry.”  Explains Thakur, “Our focus is on the international markets as the ARPUs are higher. We are now available in over 100 countries and with Tamil we will expand to more countries. The second is we have set up a team across six cities for sales as we are looking to offer branded content solutions and also integrate brands into the content. In the next couple of months we will also set up AVOD for all our free viewers and we will start advertising on the platform.”  He continues, “There is no advertising on aha Telugu. We have enough free content on the platform, but we've not monetized it so far. We will now monetize it. Today, we have over 10 million MAUs - monthly active users - if they're watching free content, there's no reason why we can't serve some ads to them.”

The Way Ahead

Looking ahead Arvind is optimistic and says, “In just two years we have become the most preferred OTT platform in Telugu. I wish in another 18 months, we'll be seeing that also in Tamil, that’s our belief and confidence. Our vision is to expand into other languages, such as Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, with the focus being hyperlocal.”

On his part Thakur adds, “We first need to get some love in Tamil Nadu and then hopefully we'll get to number one. We want to be number one in the markets we operate in. The scale we have seen in just one language tells us that by the time we get our second, third and fourth language all put together, we will probably be a much larger national player without being in Hindi and we are happy being that. Some of these parts are much bigger than being in Hindi. We have a stated ambition of not doing Hindi, we are happy being the local language app of the country.” He adds, “If we have to be number one in a year we should get to about 25% to 30% of market share. There are at least eight to 10 apps in each market right now and we know there are more people looking at our model and the markets we are so I think there will be intense competition. However, I believe that they will offer different things, we will offer different things. The local storytelling that we've done many people will not be able to do that way at the frequency and the volume.”

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