The next 12 to 14 months will be important for Voot Select: Ferzad Palia

Viacom18 Head - SVOD and International Business shares that the platform will focus more on ramping up its content slate along with improving product, tech, and customer acquisition funnels

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Published: Jun 2, 2022 8:47 AM  | 6 min read
Ferzad Palia

Launched in March 2020 just before the national lockdown, Voot Select has seen rapid growth in its subscriber base. It had hit the one million paid subscriber base in March 2021. Gearing up for its next phase of growth, the platform has joined hands with film director, producer, and screenwriter Neeraj Pandey to launch ‘Bandon Mein Tha Dum’, a web series based on India's win against Australia in the 2020/21 series. Ferzad Palia, Head - SVOD and International Business, Viacom18 spoke to exchange4media about the platform's future growth plans.

Excerpts:

Voot Select has completed a little over two years. Has the SVOD platform achieved the goals that it had set for itself?
It has exceeded our expectations! We launched in tough circumstances. The launch happened literally two weeks before the lockdown. In hindsight, it worked well for us because we had a very good content offering on the platform. The OTT industry in general and the SVOD platforms, in particular, saw a lot of sampling during the lockdown. We have been beneficiaries of audiences willing to try us much quicker than we would have anticipated. We catered to different sets of audiences. We have a strong catch-up TV business with a proposition of accessing TV shows 24 hours before it goes on air. That worked wonderfully for us. The original series has also worked wonderfully for us. On the international content front, we are lucky to have some of the biggest show launches this year including 'Super Pumped', 'Halo', 'Star Trek', 'First Lady', and Dexter's new season.

The last two years have been about learnings for us. We have learned a lot and which is what our objective was. Being a new business, we were allowed the opportunity to take our time and learn before we scale up. We have taken the learnings of the last two years and scaled up fairly quickly despite all the challenges posed by the lockdowns from a content creation point of view. Till now, it was the first phase of Voot Select's growth but with the launch of the 'Bando Mein Tha Dum' web series, we are geared up for the second phase of the platform's growth.

What have been the key learnings for you and how do you plan to use them for driving the next phase of growth?
One of the learnings has been the kind of content that works for different sets of audiences. Every kind of content works but it works for a different kind of audience set. It has helped us to understand who our audience is and what kind of content they need. The second learning has been in the area of customer acquisition as to where should we spend our money to get customers. We are fortunate to have a strong AVOD platform in Voot which has a large user base and we have the opportunity to offer a unique experience to a captive audience behind the paywall.

Then, of course, we had learnings like what should the brand look like, what should the brand stand for, and how do you address the regional market. We made a successful foray into the Kannada market with two back-to-back hits in the form of the original series 'Humble Politician Nograj' and the action-comedy-drama film 'Badava Rascal'. Now we drop a new movie every week for the Kannada audience. We take the learnings and implement them as soon as we can. The learnings that we got from our original content take far more time to deploy for it to reach the audience in terms of outcome due to the developmental process that is involved. A lot of content that audiences will see in the next few months will be enriched by the learnings of the last two years.

What are the plans to grow the platform from where you stand today?
We have put together a very solid plan which we are fine-tuning. The next 12 to 14 months will be really important for Voot Select from two perspectives. One perspective is putting the learnings to good use with a lot more quantity than you have seen so far and the second part is how do we expand our base into various other markets as well. We have different strategies for different markets. Within different language markets, we have different consumer cohorts. It's impossible for any platform to address each and every cohort.

Which are the key markets for Voot Select in terms of subscriber base?
The majority of the subscribers for SVOD platforms still come from the Top 8 markets but we are beginning to see a trend that markets that are outside these Top 8 cities are getting accustomed to subscribing. A lot of the growth for us and the industry at large will come from these smaller markets. Entertainment is even more valuable for consumers in smaller markets for a variety of reasons. Voot Select has users from over 100 towns. SVOD is penetrating smaller markets fairly rapidly.

Connected TV is driving a lot of consumption growth for OTT platforms. How has the growth been for Voot Select on CTV?
Before the pandemic, 15% of our consumption used to come from CTV. But today on some days, the consumption on TV exceeds the mobile consumption. Roughly, 40% of the consumption of SVOD content takes place on CTV. A lot of OTT consumption is happening in the living rooms. Families are beginning to watch this kind of content. It's not just individualistic consumption. We have done studies where we find that co-viewing of OTT content is on the rise in families. On-the-go consumption happens on mobiles and tablets but a lot of consumption is also happening in the household on TV.

How do you ensure that the viewing experience on CTV is as seamless as the mobile?
You have to create separate apps with different features for television. The TV manufacturers are also investing a lot more in the features of their own hardware. At the same time, content platforms such as ours are investing a lot more time and energy in creating apps that are a lot more user-friendly from a television perspective.

What will be the key focus areas for Voot Select in the near term?
A very clear focus area for us is ramping up our content slate across a variety of genres in multiple languages for a different set of cohorts. We will also work on improving our product, tech, and customer acquisition funnels. Now it's time for us to put a far more aggressive foot on the accelerator given that we had a good first 24 months.

SVOD subscriber growth had plateaued after an initial spike due to the pandemic. Has that growth come back?
We have not seen a slowdown in our growth at all. In fact, it has been quite the reverse in the last few months. It could be because we are a newer platform whereas most of the other platforms are five years old. By virtue of being a new platform, we also do things innovatively. We are also very strong on the reality slate like the Bigg Boss OTT edition and the live channels that we do around Bigg Boss in multiple languages. Our foray into other markets like Kannada has also helped.

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