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Alternative sports has big demand in India & consumers willing to pay for premium content: Veqta

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Where there's a will, there's a way. And three sports enthusiasts live up to this adage beautifully. Building a company from ground zero to a level where it?s considered a leading digital media company is no mean achievement. The company: Veqta. The persons involved: co-founders Varun Mathur, Vikram Tanwar and Gaurav Gill.

So, what does Veqta do? It is a leading (some say the first) Indian OTT subscription service dedicated exclusively to sports. It brings a unique selection of sports action across football, basketball, motorsports, tennis, MMA, Baseball, Fight Sports, badminton, etc. from authentic sources all over the world and the best analysis/opinions from world-class experts.

Mathur is a former management consultant having worked with companies like TCS, Accenture, Nimbus, IMG and PGTI in leadership positions. Tanwar, apart from being a member of the founding team of Veqta, was previously the founder, CEO and MD of ITW Consulting. Similarly, Gill is also the founding partner and director at Chatsworth Management & Advisors. The company, now gets viewers for sports content, which is not available on other broadcasting and OTT platforms.       

The business whiz-cum-sports-enthusiasts talk about their journey of a year and a half at Veqta in a free-wheeling conversation with Indiantelevision.com?s Kirti Chauhan. Edited excerpts from the interview follows:

Q. How was Veqta conceptualized and what are the changes today from the time the platform was launched?

Gaurav Gill (GG): To design Veqta?s offerings, we were looking at the biggest catchment areas in the Indian context outside the cricket and then we started handpicking our choice of sports properties to serve the needs and demands of the Indian market. Undoubtedly, we have a sound and solid offering in fight sports like wrestling, martial art and boxing, which is the biggest category in the country after cricket. We have a strong offering for basketball lovers because the game has a high demand in urban India. South India has a fan following for motorsports. As tennis is heavily demanded but underserved sports property in India, we have kept a wide offering in the tennis category.

Varun Mathur (VM): Life certainly has changed from the time we started this OTT platform in many ways. Most notably, when we started, it was us who chased various sports league and federations for content, but today many global sports leagues, federations and sports companies get in touch with us to have their content on Veqta.

Q. As you have chosen a niche area of sports streaming, how much traction and viewership you are netting? What is the average time spending on Veqta?

Vikram Tanwar (VT): We monitor user engagement on a day to day basis and have observed that users are spending fairly large time on our platform. 1.2 minute per page is the average time spent by a user and statistics say that we have an average of 11 unique page views for every user. We have crossed 150,000 downloads within a month post the subscription service launch. We have catered 1.8 million page views on Veqta?s website within the first two weeks of the subscription launch. Our digital campaign has got 1.4 billion impressions across various mediums and the campaign video has crossed five million views.

Q. Recently, you broadcast the boxing bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. How was the response in India?

VT: Boxing bout between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was our first live property after the launch of subscription package on Veqta. Our strategy was to make the battle available only on Veqta not even on television. The boxing battle and the digital campaign was a huge success, gathering around 1.4 billion digital impressions across various mediums. Within a month of activation of a subscription package, we have crossed over 150,000 downloads. This made it clear to us that in India there is a big demand for alternative sports, apart from mainline sports like cricket, and there are people willing to pay for premium sports content.

Q. What is the strategy behind keeping subscription low, compared to other OTT platforms? rates?

VT: India was an unexplored market for sports outside cricket and that?s one of the main reasons for Veqta to come alive. As sports fans, our aim was to make Veqta available to as many people and give them the comfort and flexibility to watch sports whenever and wherever on the go.

GG: Initially, we have kept the pricing very low to make people aware of the product. If the person is genuinely interested in sports, the pricing context should not be a deterrent factor. We have an introductory offer of Rs 99 (actual cost Rs 399) to attract viewers, but it is for a limited time period. We surely want to have a sound subscription revenue based model, but at the same time, we don?t want the journey of watching sports to be difficult in India.

Q. What is your revenue model?

VM: Veqta is primarily a subscription-based service and so a bigger share of revenue will come from subscription. According to us, India is completely ready for a very large subscription service. For certain events, Veqta will look at sponsorship and advertising revenue, but that would be the secondary focus. In India, currently, advertisement rate is low for non-cricket sports. Being a sports-oriented service, we don?t want too much of clutter with lots of advertising on our page currently. In future, we might have sponsors? logo along with sports content.

Q. Do you presently have advertisers on board?

VT: Although we do not have any advertiser on board currently, we would look forward getting them. At this juncture, we want our consumers to experience the uninterrupted live sport. Every sport is designed differently. Some sports allow us to showcase ads during a game, while some don?t. While we can fill airtime during a cricket match with ads, sports like basketball, football or tennis do not allow us to showcase uninterrupted feed along with advertising spots as in-between breaks in such games are absent.

Q. What is your marketing strategy?

VT: We have a focused marketing strategy, which is to acquire exclusive content rights without sharing it with any other broadcaster. We have adopted this marketing strategy from the time we have launched our subscription service and it is working efficiently. The big fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor exemplified our marketing strategy of streaming exclusive content. Also, we are using a targeted digital marketing approach through which our marketing campaign focuses on identifying the sports fan segment specifically in the country. We then interact with them over various digital platforms to engage them with Veqta.

GG: We are currently focusing on the digital-driven campaign. Our user acquisition cost is currently exciting vis-a-vis industry norms. But in future, we would look forward at above the line (ATL) campaigns. Considering the user demographics, digital is a more efficient and effective medium compared to television in the entire spectrum of various age groups. Based on the matrix, a majority of our users currently are under 15-28 age group, which is active on digital mediums. With the help of our analytics, it is easy to track and grab more subscribers.

Q. How is the customer acquisition done?

VT: Our customer acquisition strategy is centered on unique content offering across sports that have a very strong offering via exclusive rights to top sports leagues, events and tournaments for the Indian territory. We use targeted digital marketing to amplify our content package with our target customers.

Q. Do you think there is a space for a service such as Veqta when domestic players such as SonyLiv, Hotstar, Jio and international ones like Amazon and Perform Group are getting into the business of sports streaming in India?

VM: Based on Veqta?s offerings, we don?t have direct competitors at this juncture. As compared to us, other OTT platforms like SonyLiv and Hotstar, which offer sports, talk to a different audience with different content offerings. The competitive market of OTT platforms is extremely large and diverse, which has space for multiple service providers. The OTT market space of China has got 11 sports platforms, which are running successfully. Currently, in India, we are the only dedicated sports platform. And, we believe to have a great growth opportunity having crossed the benchmark of a million users within a year. Veqta is turning out to be a great piece of a compact show for which Indian consumers are willing to pay for high-quality content.

Q. Do you think is there any opportunity for Veqta in cricket?

VT: We are not targeting cricket at present. At this stage, our bouquet is full of other sports like fight sports, football, basketball, table tennis and much more. We are aware of the fact that India can?t be a single sports country.

GG: The reason cricket fans are receiving a good experience is the quality and quantity of coverage by various broadcasters and OTT platforms. At the same time, fans of other sports do not receive the same quality experience generally. Looking at this scenario, our prime focus is to address the need of non-cricket sports fans.

Q. Are you looking at adding any new sport in Veqta?s kitty?

VM: Veqta would be adding Cue Sports, squash, American sports, eSports, indoor sports and games and much more very soon. Apart from this, we would look to add more properties of basketball and football and more of racquet sports like tennis, badminton and squash in our kitty.

Q. It would be really helpful if you can enumerate the sports being showcased on Veqta presently.

VM: VEQTA is currently covering a broad spectrum of sports including boxing, MMA, wrestling, baseball, basketball, tennis, table tennis, and rugby. In tennis, we are exclusive rights holder of WTA (Women's Tennis Association). We have the rights to broadcast International Table Tennis games. In rugby, we own the rights to stream HSBC Sevens World Series. In the rally category, we own rights to broadcast World Rally Championship. 

Q. Would you explore adding talk shows-type content on Veqta?

GG: We are progressively into acquiring content rights to create Veqta as the biggest sports library. We are not targeting producing content ourselves, but we have explored sports reviews, sports analysis, and pre-news shows. in the near future, we would be looking at adding sports reviews, comments, analysis, and pre-match shows. We will be focusing towards reality instead of fiction. Our immediate priority is to make sure that live sports offerings keep growing.

Q. What type of distribution alliances would be useful for Veqta?

VT: OTT adoption and consumption is constantly evolving and we believe that distribution alliances will help realise the true potential of any OTT offering. We are already in advanced discussions with two large telecom service providers and with one of the largest OEM handset manufacturers for distribution alliances. We are also having discussions with hardware providers to offer Veqta for the home screen and large screen viewing. These alliances might be done by pre-embedding the Veqta flagship platform in hardware and on handsets or by offering limited Veqta content through a specialist Veqta Sports offering as a part of an OTT listing/marketplace offering by the respective service providers.

Q. As sports rights are expensive propositions how such acquisitions are funded -- internal accruals or are you looking at raising funds?

VM: We are in active discussions with companies to raise more capital. However, we have spoken about our seed funding once in media, which was Rs. 33.5 million.

Q.  Since Veqta was a late entrant in the Indian OTT space, what were the challenges faced and benefits reaped?

GG: OTT as a concept in India is in an evolutionary stage, so we do not consider ourselves a late entrant. As far as dedicated sports platform is concerned, we are one of the early players. Earlier entrants into space successfully introduced the term OTT to the masses, which was not only welcomed but also got a great push from the likes of Reliance Jio. After studying the market and scenario, we decided to be in the SVoD category through which we are netting good subscriber numbers. We feel the subscription-based model is the correct approach to generate good revenue.

Q: Would you be offering sports content in Indian regional languages and from when?

VM: We firmly believe that sports still need to touch its potential reach in India. The basic problem we face is the offering of sports in India is limited to a few languages. For example, a sport like a football has a big fan following in pockets like Kerala, West Bengal and North-East, but if the nuances are not understood by a consumer other than his/her mother tongue or in the language spoken in the region, the viewing experience could diminish. We are aiming to go forward and give more customized experience to our viewers, but not immediately. In near future, we would be able to choose some sports properties and offer commentaries and related information in various regional languages.

Q. Is there a possibility that in future Veqta transforms into a television broadcaster?

VT: We strongly believe in the long run OTT consumption and viewership globally across general entertainment genres will replace (traditional) television. But, our key business strategy is ?never say never? as we keep striving for improvements.

Q. What technology are you using and who has designed your backend technology?

VT: Veqta uses the services of multiple third-party technology companies like MultiTv, Switch, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Limelight and a few more. Earlier, people were putting a lot of money in developing in-house technology. As it is difficult for niche digital broadcasters to put a huge amount of money in developing in-house technology, we prefer to use various third-party operators, including those for satellite downlink. Unlike other OTT platforms like Hotstar, Amazon Prime, SonyLiv and Voot, we play 6,000 hours of live content, which has to be accurate and efficient in terms of streaming. Ours is a tougher job as we receive IP feeds from many of our partners who are pushing content from various corners of the globe. This content bounces of several servers and IPs, so we have deployed servers closer to source to receive LIVE match feed and process it there itself, before pushing it on to the CDN. For certain other partners, we receive the LIVE matches through satellite and process the feeds here in India after downlinking them.

Q. What is your glass-to-glass latency?

VM: The signals we receive are delivered on CDN (content delivery networks), which are the high-speed global servers that cache and deliver web content instantly. With the help of good internet connectivity, our glass-to-glass latency level maintains less than one second, which is around 300 milli-seconds, much less than television and other sports OTT platforms. It is one of the reasons that we are getting more subscribers as they are willing to pay less and get quick sports updates instead of investing time and money on subscribing television channels.

Q. Where do you see Veqta over the next five years?

GG: Five years down the line, Veqta will be one of the dominant forces in the sports streaming and OTT ecosystems. It will evolve into a world-class sports network in terms of number of a sports broadcast, number of customers and in the number of geographies we operate in. Most probably, Veqta will be a global player in the coming five years. Also, we want every sports fan to have a fabulous world-class experience while watching best of sports from all over the world at any point of time.

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