The next tidal wave of content is coming out of India: Carter Pilcher, ShortsTV

ShortsTV Chief Executive Carter Pilcher feels that Indian content has an enormous potential globally

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Apr 8, 2021 9:13 AM
Carter Pilcher

London-headquartered ShortsTV is bullish on the Indian market. From being present only on one platform, Shorts TV has expanded its library and enriched its content library for the Indian market. Recently, ShortsTV launched on Airtel Xstream. Soon, it will have its own SVOD service.

ShortsTV Chief Executive Carter Pilcher, who is a voting member of both the BAFTA and the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), feels that the Indian content has an enormous potential globally. He also said that the next tidal wave of content is coming out of India.

Excerpts:

What progress has been made by ShortsTV since launching in the Indian market in 2018?

We started out as a paid service and it was only available on Tata Sky. We have grown our base on Tata Sky considerably and launched on Dish TV, D2H and Airtel, and now we have audiences that are in the thousands, starting less than two years ago from zero. Recently, we've launched on Airtel Xstream and expect to see huge growth there. We're launching an SVOD product, and it's all based on our same catalogue of short films. We're in the process of working out partnerships with a large television entertainment provider as well as some of the other SVOD streaming platforms in India. So, we think it's been an amazing growth, and we're very excited about the market. We're thrilled with all the energy and love for short films that we're seeing in India.

What is your content, distribution, and marketing strategy for the Indian market?
Short films are amazing entertainment and it really doesn't matter if you watch them on a linear channel or on an SVOD service. They are exciting and perfectly suited to today's sensibilities. They're shorter, they get to the point quicker, and often they're much more emotionally intense. The laughter is bigger and the explosions are more shocking. The plot tends to grab you much more quickly and take you on quite a journey. Because it’s such a ride, we're seeing a great response to ShortsTV and to the ShortsTV+ services that we have started rolling out. Our strategy in India is very simple - bring the best short movies to every Indian who loves movies in the way that that they most want to watch it whether it's on linear TV, which we program like a short film festival, or on an SVOD app where they can like, skip and find the films that they want to watch. We will bring short films in all kinds of ways that give audiences a chance to find the films they like. What we really see across the spectrum is that once people start watching shorts, they never stop.

Who is your key target audience in the Indian market?

The great thing about short films is that they reach across boundaries and across barriers. We're seeing success with Indian shorts that are in every Indian language – Hindi, Marathi, Bengali Tamil, Telugu, every kind of plot, and every type of entertainment. Our target audience is people who love great entertainment and what we're finding with short films is that they are reaching far across the country. With our regional catalogue, we are reaching audiences across the spectrum from Maharashtra to West Bengal to Karnataka. We're seeing an enormous uptake in audiences all over the country.

How are you growing your distribution footprint?
We launched in India on television with a value-added service that brought short films to Indian audiences and we've had great success over the last 18 months. We have just started rolling out on mobile devices and I think we will see an enormous uptake as we start reaching from device to device since shorts work on every platform. You can enjoy them as a kind of a film festival experience when watched on television. On mobiles, they are available for you wherever and whenever you want to watch them. We have started testing and rolling out direct-to-consumer models in India and outside of India.

What kind of deals are you stitching with distribution platforms?
We are doing every kind of deal including flat fees and revenue share. One of the great things about the Indian market right now is that it's wide open and everyone is experimenting. Tata Sky is trying one model, Airtel is trying another, and Dish TV is doing something else. Xiaomi is doing one thing and Amazon is doing something different altogether. We're working with everybody and we're trying out many different models.

How much India-specific content do you have in your library?

We have an enormous and growing library of some of the best Indian short movies that exist. We have also started building our catalogue of regional films from across territories including Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil among others. The other reason our catalogue is growing is that we have seen a lot of submissions to our Best of India Short Film Festival. We have seen some great shorts being submitted for Oscar consideration. This year our winning short film was Natkhat featuring Vidya Balan and produced by Ronnie Screwvala and it fought right there with some of the other best movies globally. We are exceptionally thrilled at the quality of Indian filmmaking and the way it is changing quickly. At the speed our catalogue is growing, our only goal is to bring to audiences really great movies and Indian shorts are increasingly getting the magic formula of filmmaking correct and attracting audiences all across the world.

Will you look at commissioning India-specific content?
We have already been doing funding at some levels. We are definitely looking more at partnerships that would allow us to co-produce content in India.

Do you think Indian content has the potential to travel globally?
Indian content has enormous potential globally. It's been very exciting in the last couple of years to see the breakthrough of Korean content in America and in global markets with Parasite and other movies. China is too structured, so I don’t think the next wave is coming from there. Honestly, I think the next tidal wave of content is coming out of India. Our view is that India will bring the next tsunami of content.

Your views on the emerging content scene in India?
We're seeing a shift in what content creators in India are making. There's a big break away from the traditional, ironclad, and unimaginative format of a Bollywood movie. And I think Anurag Kashyap is one of the guys who really started this big move by Indian filmmakers, into telling real stories in a real way that are of movie quality even in short format. That shift also comes because there is a huge hunger in the audience not just for fantasy or escapism, that was what powered Bollywood. But this new idea that I'm looking for heroes and stories that lift me, not just dancing in Switzerland, but movies that speak to my life, that deal with issues that maybe I deal with. Tell a story that feels real to me. This whole desire for authenticity by audiences will break new film directors in India to provide content that has the ring of authenticity to it. It’s the new thing that is causing Indian cinema to really make huge leaps and bounds forward and I think this will challenge the world.

What are the content consumption trends that you've been observing in India for ShortsTV?

We are seeing local stories getting lots of traction. Of course, the big international movie stars or big international award-winning films get lots of traction and are interesting to our audiences but genres that are popular are horror, thriller, romance, and love. In terms of growing subscribers, we have seen enormous growth during the pandemic like everywhere in the world and enormous growth in time spent on our network and we are thrilled. Its brought plenty of new subscribers. We think that this has been very helpful to educate audiences since they have had more time to explore new content alternatives.

What is your revenue monetisation strategy?
The value proposition that we bring to our audiences is that we aren't providing any advertising. We had some brand sponsors. We just did a big project with MasterCard in March. We produced a series of five short films telling the stories of five different women entrepreneurs from around the world who built amazing businesses and are making a difference. Both in terms of being a successful business but also making a difference in their communities. It's a very exciting series. We're working with brands, but we don't litter our channel with advertising. Part of our proposition to our subscribers is that we give subscribers beautiful, fabulous films and a fabulous environment that isn't cluttered with silly messages that distract them from having great moments with our films.

Could you share some details about your partnership with Airtel Xstream in terms of collaboration, content library, and pricing strategy?
We have just completed the process of collaborating with Airtel Xstream. We have provided our subscribers, access to ShortsTV through the Airtel Xstream app. Subscribers will have access directly to our catalogue of hundreds and hundreds of films that will be available to them. We are charging a monthly fee of Rs. 99/- that is in line with our availability on other services, but the yearly fee is quite reasonable at Rs. 499/- and we are seeing quite a nice growth in subscribers to the annual package on Airtel Xstream.

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