Aim to make product smarter, broader, deeper in 2020: ZEE5’s Rajneel Kumar

Recommendation journey keeps improving for content and experience.


MUMBAI: A large numbers of Indians enjoy OTT experience across locations, languages, devices at any convenient time nowadays. Consumers as well as the industry players mostly talk about content but what goes on behind the seamless experience often goes unnoticed. From hyperpersonalisation to recommendation, consumer data platform, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL)’s digital arm ZEE5 has undertaken a number of innovations in technical segment along with content in 2019. In 2020, the platform, which boasts of 8.9 milion daily active users, aims to make the product smarter, broader, deeper.

ZEE5 business head-expansion projects and head of product Rajneel Kumar took us through the back-end journey of the streaming platform during a candid conversation recently. In a freewheeling chat, he shared ZEE5’s innovations in 2019 and outlook for 2020.

In three words he summed up his aim in the product side for the year 2020 – smarter, broader, deeper. When he said smarter, Kumar meant it is about how they create products which are more intuitive for the users and constantly keeps evolving. By the term broader he meant how the platform can serve wider cross-section of the consumers in the country ranging from high-end smart TV users to low-end handset users. Making the product deeper is about creating an engaging experience on the platform to be able to give more to the consumer very conveniently across various needs.

“2019 was a very active year for us in trying to take our product significantly ahead of what we started off with and where we wanted to end with it. There are couple of areas in which we specifically focused on where we partnered with various organizations and with a lot of them we have seen the results come already and with some of them the results are still to come out but they will be out in 2020 with all the work we have done,” Kumar stated.

The platform is extensively focusing on hyper-personalization which starts with a combination of a bunch of various heads including recommendation. Last year, ZEE5 worked with an Israeli company called Talamoos in the segment and that resulted in a massive uplift of content consumption of each user. Kumar added that recommendation is a journey that keeps improving not only on the content side but also on the experience side. In 2020, on the hyperpersonalisation side, the company is looking at customising the whole experience of the user as far as his entire journey on the application is concerned. While content is one part of it, navigation is the other part of it, notification and communication to him is another part of it.

“The second part that we focused on getting a CDP in place which is a consumer data platform which becomes the heart and soul on which you start to do all segmentation and build out various clusters of consumers you can target for both communication and up selling so well and so forth. That’s when we worked with a company called Optimove. We rolled out a CDP which has been great at creating both consumers insights and taking action on it as far as communication to the users are concerned,” he said.

ZEE5 also paid high attention in the previous year on how to give great playback experience to users. The company has come out with a progressive web app (PWA) which has a new interface, a new player, certain features and sections which were not available earlier. On the playback part of it, the platform worked with a foreign company Kaltura. Kumar claims to see good traction and results coming out from PWA implementation.

While a lot of premium users now have started to consume content on large screen devices, ZEE5 worked highly last year on making living room experience better. They worked with large cross-section of manufacturers and operating system owners.  As people started to buy smart TVs back in 2015, the consumers who had brought it then face the challenge of support for the operating systems that were launched then. Hence, ZEE5 dedicated its focus on making its presence on these devices on being backward compatible to cover a broad spectrum of users.

According to Kumar, the fundamentals of a great consumer experience first start with discoverability as the consumer present on the platform wants to discover content. To improve discoverability, ZEE5 has several heads under it including UI, UX. For better recommendation, the platform also looks at how consumers discover the launch of content and how they navigate through it.

“Another part is recommendation. When I come to the platform how do I come to the content which is more relevant to me, which is where a lot work is done, in not only learning the users past behaviour but also looking at his persona and people like him and being able to see if he has watched this content and somebody else has watched other content, and what is it the most likely  he is also able to watch, not only his behaviour but also behaviour of the segments which is there,” he added.

“The second part of it is how do I make it seamless for him across the platform and we do a significant amount of work on the player by itself. That's why we have gone from a refresh from the earlier player to a new player,” Kumar pointed out.

For better consumer experience, ZEE5  is also focusing on handling languages. “We have 12 languages. So, when a user comes you are not forcing him to communicate in a non-native language which is where we give him the option right away to a native language of his choice and start his journey which helps him in navigation and looking at the content and leading more about the content which he needs,” he added.

ZEE5 being a large multi-lingual OTT platform it cannot be focused on only the youth segment, Kumar added. From the very onset, ZEE5’s focus has been to be inclusive of the whole platform which includes people who are not that digitally native.

“We focus on how do we make it easy to navigate in their choice of language. Number two, we have worked on voice search and being able to discover content purely using your voice. Number three, by being able to handle all types of handsets. Not only the higher-end handsets but also lower-end handsets, handsets which are not necessarily IOS, Android but KaiOS,” he added.

Kumar predicted smarter use of AI and ML for the OTT segment in 2020. According to him, key trends in the industry in the tech segment will be how OTT platforms make an easier user experience, easier  payment journeys, grow the user base using AI and ML. 

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