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Using technology to help people connect to faith: Shemaroo's Hiren Gada

For now, the devotional category adds little less than 10% revenue to its total.

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MUMBAI: Despite the fast-paced lifestyle most Indians never get disconnected from their faith. Early mornings at many homes would mean turning on some devotional content on TV. But it isn't a category that attracts content creators. Shemaroo Entertainment found the need gap long ago and started exploring the opportunity. Now, devotional content from the house is gradually increasing with a presence across digital and television mediums.

With the aim to connect people to their faith, Shemaroo Entertainment has experimented with several kinds of content including live streaming from religious places. Moreover, to strengthen the presence across mediums, it has launched two apps and tied-up with major DTH platforms and telco operators. Shemaroo Entertainment CEO Hiren Gada in an interaction with Indiantelevision.com shared the reasons for focusing on the segment, marketing strategy and upcoming actions in 2019.

Excerpts:

Why have you started focusing on devotional category highly?

Many years ago when we looked at the audio-visual medium and the needs of the consumers that it can actually fulfill - films and entertainment and then news came immediately to mind. Then we saw there are many more needs audio-visual medium can fulfill and when we saw different kind of categories which have a wider mass consumption, devotion came as a very strong one. The need for devotion in India is strong in multiple pockets. That’s why we thought that if we have to look at the categories beyond films and entertainment genre, devotion is a very strong area to look at. When we were doing all of this we also saw how technology is making devotion more accessible to common man. Technology is helping them access devotional needs in an easier, better and faster way compared to what it was years back. Digital media is acting as an enabler for common mass. All these factors have given us thought that this is a category we should explore much deeper.

Does young India watch devotional content? What’s your strategy to attract them to this particular category?

I would answer it in two ways. If you look at the life journey of any Indian, there are so many exposures to devotional aspects right from childhood. In youth age, people may get a bit disconnected, they may be a bit rebellious also. Further, as they progress, the devotional journey continues. We as Indians are always seeking to reach the higher, deeper meaning of life. There is absolutely no denying that. In every religious festival, youth participates actively.

The second aspect is how we are making the content available and accessible. We are doing it through the gadgets of the youth that is the mobile. It’s about connecting people to their faith and using technology to make that connection happen.

We have recast a lot of traditional bhajans with a youthful flavour, in more modern music setting with more modern sounds. The fundamental character of bhajan is not being changed but is presented in a more youthful setting. For some of the bhajans, we have created very good videos. These are the ways to connect to the youth where they can find content suitable to their taste.

Do you have plans of launching any other app other than the existing ones (Bhakti, Ibaadat)?

We will expand to other faiths also. At this point, between these two we are covering more than 90 per cent of India’s population. Our focus is also to go deeper and add more and more new aspects, new features. If I have to look beyond apps, today whether it is on YouTube, DTH, we have worked with all the other faiths.

If you could share more details about DTH services…

Currently, we are running 24/7 services across four major DTH platforms which are Tata Sky, Dish TV, Airtel, d2h. One service is for Hindu, another for Islamic. Also, we just recently launched our service on InCable. These are all essentially premium paid ad-free services with different monthly payment ranging between Rs 40 to 60 per month. We do the entire programming curation, scheduling.

What are the plans for OTT consumers? Do you have a plan to strike a deal with any platform?

At this point, we are planning to put it on our upcoming Shemaroo Me platform. Exclusivity is one aspect, the other aspect is that you know devotion is a non-entertainment category. Most of these platforms are on the entertainment side. So it’s not a mandate of most of the platforms to take up devotion as content or services. In that sense, most of them are not looking at a devotional category.

What will be your marketing strategy?

We have two or three agencies working for us whereas Ogilvy is our main agency who created the basic template for the new Shemaroo visual identity. There is one more agency we worked with for some of the specific creative. We have very strong in-house teams too. The entire social media is handled by the in-house team. We have a very strong in-house promo creation team. They have done some very fantastic promo and tailors.

In terms of overall marketing, we do it in two or three ways. On social media, we have a very strong presence itself on Facebook, YouTube.  There are YouTube channels which have more than 2 million subscribers. Apart from that, DTH is where consumer is also present and we also promote services. Then there is b2b which is through sending a lot of newsletters, PR to various b2b constituencies whether on corporate, regular media, digital media side, telcos. We also have a very strong presence through the telco platforms and are working very closely with them.

How does this category contribute to overall revenue?

It’s till now relatively nascent and small. In terms of overall monetisation, film is a very large category. Film is overall 80 per cent of our business. Devotion as a category contributor would be single digit per cent, less than 10 per cent.

Which are the new initiatives you are planning to take up this year?

There are very exciting plans. The whole Kumbh Mela is starting this month, there are lot of activities we have planned for Kumbh Mela in multiple ways. More importantly, we are focusing on giving the audience a fantastic experience both on television and digital medium.

We will have Shemaroo Me OTT launch where devotional will be a part of the content categories and then there are 3-4 other different activities planned out. Plans for the second half is yet to be chalked out.

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