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Jio has single-handedly changed the video-consumption game in India: ex-CEO of iStream.com

23-July-2018
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Jio has single-handedly changed the video-consumption game in India: ex-CEO of iStream.com

OTT platform iStream.com had over 7 million users on a monthly basis before they hit an extremely bad market by the end of 2012. The former CEO of iStream.com, Radhakrishnan Ramachandran is now making a comeback with a regional video network named Studio Mojo.

Radhakrishnan spoke about the growth and fall of iStream.com, the future of OTT platforms and his new venture. Excerpts:

Tell us about your new venture Studio Mojo.

Lot of people have asked over the past 12 months whether there are plans to relaunch iStream. The product game is over for me. Now it is time to play the content game. Hence Studio Mojo. If iStream was alive today, this would have been the second phase - creating original content. The goal is to build one of the largest video networks for regional language programming. We call ourselves a network because the objective is not just to create content but also identify talent with whom we will produce content. The idea is not to just work with the top names in the industry. We need to build the whole content ecosystem - spotting talent and giving them opportunities is equally important. If you look at some of the most creative movie industries like Malayalam the best content is being created by young scriptwriters and directors with lot of new faces.

What will be the major focus areas of Studio Mojo?

We are pursuing a three-prong approach this year to cater to both long and short format content. We are working with OTT platforms to create original programming in South Indian languages currently. We will get into other regional languages like Marathi, Bengali, Bhojpuri by end of the year. We are also working on creating short format content for platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We will also be licensing regional language content to Telcos, IPTV players and OTT players in markets such as Middle East and North Africa region and Southeast Asia where there is huge appetite for regional content.

According to you, what are the current trends on OTT?

The game has totally changed with Netflix and Amazon Prime entering the market with their humongous content budgets. While they have started betting big on Hindi, it is just a matter of time before they turn to multiple regional languages. That is where the growth is going to happen. If you look at video consumption trends on social media platforms you will see that regional languages - Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Marathi are exploding. While original web series is the buzz word today, it is just a matter of time before we start seeing other content formats gaining momentum.

For most, the target audience is in the age group of 15 to 30 years, currently. But over a period of time they will start building content for other demographic segments.

How do you envision the future of OTT?

We today have over 25 OTT platforms which obviously means that consolidation will be happening in the space sooner or later. You will see some of the OTT platforms positioning themselves for regional markets.

The big challenge for everyone is the business model. While digital ad budgets have grown manifold over the last few years, it isn’t good enough to sustain growth for these platforms. Then there is the subscription model which is the ideal solution considering the fact that the video consumption is going through the roof. But are Indians ready to pay for content yet? Indications are that the subscription market is just over Rs 200 crore currently, which is hardly enough for platforms to survive. But I do believe that with compelling content, produced at reasonable costs, the game will soon start changing. It needs to be seen as to who all will survive the game by then.

Apart from content what are the other factors that satisfy the audience?

With Netflix entering the market, product quality becomes extremely critical. Factors like discoverability, content packaging, meta data are elements that platforms now need to pay great attention to.

How has data explosion in the recent years changed video-consumption in India?

Of course, that is the foremost game changer. I can say that Jio has almost single-handedly changed the game. Back in 2012 bandwidth quality was a huge concern. Today six out of every 10 people watch videos on mobile phones with the kind of data explosion we are witnessing.

Looking back what did you learn from your journey with iStream.com?

It was one of the high points in my journey as an entrepreneur. To be able to build and work with an awesome team, which pioneered the concept of video on demand in India, to raise funding from a marquee VC like SAIF, to build over 14 million views and over 7 million users on a monthly basis - all in just over 18 months - it was a dream run. We were touted as India’s answer to Hulu and Netflix. But it was a dream cut short. I guess it was all about the timing, to hit an extremely bad market by end of 2012 and early 2013 when we were looking for our second round of funding. Or maybe we were a tad ahead of the times.
Building a home-grown video platform was a huge technology challenge. We hardly had teams who worked on video platforms but we were able to put together a great team. We had both Star and Times announcing their own plans to launch their OTT platforms so the team’s challenge was to build a superior product, which I can proudly say, we did. Then there were content related challenges. Why should consumers come to a new platform like iStream when they are used to YouTube?

But unfortunately, our DNA was that of a media company. We put a lot of emphasis on discoverability and packaging of the content. We covered all genres like news, TV shows, movies and Sports with equal aplomb. We had a 60-member digital team managing that.

Then there were challenges related keeping our content costs low. We bet on football properties like UEFA and Brazilian football league, where Neymar was a rising star, instead of expensive properties like IPL. That worked for us. From almost nothing our views shot up to 3 million in those three weeks of UEFA.
Of course, the biggest challenge of all proved to be raising our second round of funding, which unfortunately didn’t happen.

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