CASBAA India OTT Forum: Asian players in search of a winning formula

MUMBAI: Catering to regional choices, reasonable pricing coupled with fabulous viewing experience, good user interface (UI) and worthwhile user engagement through membership and social media connect seemed to the gist of "the Asian experience" conversation CASBAA chief executive Christopher Slaughter had with Hooq managing director Salil Kapoor, Spuul chief executive Subin Subaiah and NBA India managing director Yannick Colaco.

Spuul and Hooq are Asian in nature and are willing to adapt according to every market they enter, including India. NBA (National Basketball Association) too is learning to be a player to contend with in a complex market like India.

Kapoor admitted that, though Hooq has done well in Philippines and Indonesia and, in a small way, in Singapore, the India story is yet to happen after 18 months of presence in the country. "In the Philippines, for example," Kapoor said, "We garnered good traction with the strategy of best of Hollywood and local content."

However, he added, in India, the audience is wide -- different regional languages, dialects, content preferences, classes and masses -- and a definite strategy is yet to evolve. Kapoor and others were speaking at the CASBAA India OTT Forum in Mumbai on 3 March 2017.

NBA entered India with its own content. "Small players who seek a bigger premium have less fan growth," Colaco observed. "If we want to control the destiny of our brand NBA, we need to be more nimble," he added. "Our growth will depend on how we engage with the users," the NBA executive said. Colaco elaborated how NBA, as part of user engagement, had put a reasonably-priced league pass behind a pay wall. "Content users, who bought the passes, have access to 1400 live games, archives, four different angles of game viewing and three types of commentaries," he said.

With various tie-ups OTT players are reaching out to maximum audience. Broadcasters, sometimes, Colaco felt, may limit content-providers’ engagement with the users. "But, through our association with Sony 6," Colaco said, "we bring 14 live games to our audience every week." Reiterating NBA's aim to control the “destiny of their users”, the NBA man said they have managed to garner around seven million fans on Facebook and were exploring more efficient ways of engagement.

Subaiah, who sees Spuul as the company’s livelihood in the sense it being a pure play OTT company with no other agenda, said that they were gathering metrics. "We have experimented and ruled out several content formats such as short form,” he added, pointing out that at times the consumer is challenged to find good content.

Prodded by Slaughter on revenue in the broadcast versus pure play game, Kapoor said that different players may have experimented with SVoD and AVoDs, but the industry in India seems to be dominated by a couple of large players. He finds TVoDs to be an exciting challenge. He opined weekly passes or sachet pricing may work, but not AVoD.

Colaco recommended that one needs to grow its fan base for the sake of content. Since the audience is the young generation, content makers/aggregators too need to evolve constantly. Many a broadcaster, he felt, was not always equipped to evolve constantly. Also, he observed, several content formats were inefficient for mobile platform: "We (NBA) shoot at least seven games a week only for the mobile (landscape) audience."

When pointed out that audio too was important for sports content, Colaco agreed, and said that they were actively looking at going regional. "We are already having the audio for 600 games in Chinese," he stressed, adding in three months, NBA planned to have its games commentary in Hindi as well. Supporting the idea, Subaiah said that Tamil content dubbed in Hindi on Spuul was doing well.

So who's going to be ahead in the arms race? The Hooq executive felt that, although Bollywood was important, regional content seemed to be critical too. If one (player) is something in everything, there is an apprehension of being rendered irrelevant, Kapoor said, since the raw material (content) is becoming expensive by the day. And then, there is the new girl in town -- originals. "How can we leave her alone?" he asked.

So, there is original versus 'freemium’ versus regional content. But, Subaiah believes that content, if not backed with worthwhile distribution and sufficient marketing, is of no use no matter how good it might be. The jury seemed to be out on a blend of original and regional coupled with high-decibel marketing.

Who cuts the ice for this kind of cocktail? All OTT players in India seem to be testing the market and learning and evolving for the last 24 months. But, for how long? And, is it affordable too?

Kapoor, having also done a successful stint at Dish TV selling satellite connections, however, did make an apt point on freebies being thrown at consumers. “An e-commerce giant is giving away good content almost free (Amazon), a telco (Reliance Jio) is giving data almost complimentary and a broadcaster (Star) is giving most of the content for free,” Kapoor said throwing up his hands, adding that there was a need to stop with such freebies that don’t make much business sense and “consolidate” as India has seen 17 telcom players playing the game initially, but now reduced to just four or five major and serious players.

But, the NBA India chief was confident that the India code could be cracked. Pointing out that most MNCs believed in the power of India where 500 million people were under the age of 25, Colaco said as his parting shot, “There is an opportunity to reach out to the millenials. Let's build on the opportunity -- it's tremendous."

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