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Digital success via differentiated content, good story-telling, partnerships

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MUMBAI: Bollywood, Hollywood and sports content will certainly get you traction, but ultimately well thought out differentiated content, partnerships with platforms and targeted audience will not only get the eyeballs, but also return on investment for content creators on OTT platforms.

This was the over-arching message from content creators and OTT platform operators at the session on content paradigm at Indiantelevision.com-organised conference related to OTT here yesterday, aptly themed Vidnet 2016.

The panel included Abhimanyu Singh, CEO, Contiloe Entertainment, Mahesh Narayanan, MD, Saavn, Salil Kapoor, MD, HOOQ India, Uday Sodhi, EVP and Head Digital Business, Sony Pictures India, Varun Mathur, Co-Founder and Director VEQTA, Viviek Bhargava, MD and CEO iProspect and Yash Patnaik, Founder, Beyond Dreams Entertainment.

The session’s basic underlying theme, highlighted by moderator Anil Wanvari, Founder and Editor-in Chief, Indiantelevision.com, revolved around the type of content that could work in the digital world while keeping in mind the needs of advertisers, agencies and investments.

The variety of online content is vast, Sony’s Sodhi said, adding since the ecosystem is fairly new, consumption is from television content catch up. “There is a fair demand for movie viewing, including short films,” according to him as he pointed out sports too is majorly consumed by OTT subscribers.

However, Sodhi was candid enough to admit that presently in an evolving eco-system it cannot be said with guarantee what works and what does not.

As SonyLiv depends a lot on streaming of sports content on the platform, a question was raised whether programming differentiation on major OTT platforms was needed and also whether a global player like Netflix, focused on fictional series and movies, needs to re-strategize in India.

Pointing out that OTT platforms ultimately will come out with their strengths, Sodhi said, “We come with a huge legacy of sports. We believe it works well for us and gives us an automatic connect between our users on TV and digital (platform), acting as an entry point for consumers.”

While Sony Liv is banking on sports, HOOQ is finalising plans to launch in India as a VOD platform.

Educating the uninitiated that HOOQ is a joint venture amongst Sony Pictures TV, SingTel and Warner Bros., HOOQ India chief Kapoor was of the opinion that the new digital evolution is about “pull and not push” and, therefore, “good content will get pulled (by consumers).”

“All sorts of stories and entertainment can co exist in this (digital) space,” Kapoor said, adding that the criteria for success in the digital world were quality of content as people appreciate good content on every format.

As per HOOQ, the criteria to measure the success of engagement is not downloads (of an app), but continuous engagement and number of active users.

However, the experts on the panel did agree that since there is more television content, `catch up’ is a big issue presently. The next step ought to be and should be engagement of consumers with original content and the players are experimenting with that as to what’s relevant to digital natives.

For example, Saavn, the music streaming app, has its own formula to engage audiences. The strategy for audio players is to package their content differently to provide a unique experience.

Sharing the company’s varied ways of consumer engagement, Saavn’s Narayanan said an interesting property the company created was Saavn Live where live gigs happen on a stage in the company office with artistes performing at a pre-set time that goes live on Facebook.

Saavn counts on social media to push its content and offers unplugged version of songs.

The mechanism of how digital content is working has a big influence on advertising sector as well. iProspect’s Bhargava pointed out while previously brands found advertising cheaper than creating content, digital content creation has minimised cost encouraging brands to produce their own content.
According to Bhargava, this gives brands an opportunity to engage consumers on their own platforms through licensed content and brand communication becomes easier.

A digital advertising expert, Bhargava also felt that a shift in advertising pattern has happened past 2-3 years where a large chunk of a client’s budget has been dedicated to digital advertising. “This has given brands an opportunity to reduce advertising costs through content. Digital provides same amount of engagement in less money,” he added.

But the question remains as to which content works and gives the correct RoI. The content creators on the panel were of the opinion that platforms and advertisers can only succeed with the right shows when a good story is created and told well. The message from the content creators was clear: better storytelling does work wonders.

Contiloe’s Singh pointed out that television has witnessed a downfall in viewership as there was a “disengagement” with “discerning” viewers/consumers. “Platforms and (content) makers will have to shift to making differentiated content,” he explained, adding not only the plot, but storytelling method has to go undergo a change too.

“There is a severe need to reinvent the way audiences are engaged with plots and characters,” Singh said, adding that the good news is India has a rich tradition of story-telling and an equally rich bank of tales.

Though in today’s world there is palpable excitement about the digital eco-system, Patnaik from Beyond Dreams expanded the perspective highlighting that television, cinema and digital are separate platforms catering to the same audience and, hence, “viewership will fluctuate” according to quality of content.

With the kind of buzz digital space is witnessing, brands, production houses and channels are launching their own platforms or attempting to. Could this clutter the digital space?

Hinting that existing OTT platforms like Sony Liv could be used by content owners and creators, Sony’s Singh said not everyone needs to have their own platforms and, instead, they need to collaborate to create content.

Yes, collaboration between content creators and platform operators did resonate with the panellists with most having their own perspectives.

While Contiloe’s Singh supported the collaboration angle as a way forward, HOOQ’s Kapoor said that instead of everybody trying to do everything, partnerships should be explored.

VEQTA’s Mathur added that sports as a segment is an under-served one in India and more variety in this space would add to the spice.

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