Television

Sudhanshu Vats unveils Voot's audacious plans in Viacom18 show of strength

Voot will make its international debut in November this year

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Viacom18 put on quite a show as it offered a peak into what's in store for its OTT platform Voot at a five-star hotel in Mumbai on Thursday. Leading the charge was managing director Sudhanshu Vats with key colleagues Monika Shergill, Ajit Andhare, Ravish Kumar and Akash Banerji in tow. The company made a series of box-office announcements, throwing down the gauntlet to competition. Voot showcased the first bundle of its upcoming Voot Originals – 18 multi-lingual premium web series cutting across genres. Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the network’s movie studio, will now be producing web series for VOOT under the banner of Tipping Point Films. 

In a bid to tap into the country's regional markets, the regional broadcast entertainment cluster of company will produce multi-lingual Voot Originals. The streaming service will add news (16 live channels across 13 languages) to its diverse portfolio in partnership with Network18. Sprucing up its content and product play, Voot is set to go international, beginning with the United Kingdom in November this year.

Driving synergies within the network, Vats' vision is to build a future-ready Viacom18 that is screen, platform and pipe agnostic. In a bid take rapid strides, Viacom18 is bound to throw the might of all its media and entertainment properties behind Voot. Case in point, utilising Reliance Jio as a platform to showcase content and a carrier of the app's services.

To ramp up its engagement and user interactivity experience, Voot will be adding to the user search experience and facilitating easy discoverability will be the adoption of Google Watch Action, an industry first in APAC for premium OTT players. The introduction of dolby surround sound for all Voot Originals is a first amongst Indian OTT brands.

Viacom18's show of strength not only signals intent but also suggests that the company is building up ammunition in order to go the distance in the OTT warfare. Vats' ambitious roadmap for Voot is likely to get the early entrants and leaders Hotstar, SonyLIV and Zee5 to sit up and take note.

Vats, who was promoted last month, has seen the company transition from a joint venture with Viacom to one that is now majority-owned by Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries. After he and his team made the big-ticket Voot announcements, the big boss of Viacom18 sat down to express his views on a range of subjects.

International distribution

If you look at the model, particularly the behind paywall model, there are two very important components, which we have to be careful about. One is the acquisition cost, and the other is the marketing. So, at this juncture in our journey as we try and test the waters in the international market, our thinking is that going with a telco partner will be a good thing to do. And the choice of the market is because we wanted to go to a diaspora market, which has got a reasonably good representation of India. It has also got a good mix of traditional Indian families and now the younger audience. It is also a market where we could also test out some of the appeal of the Indian content with youth, population outside of our own diaspora. So from all of those, it was a good mix. UK has got two million south Asian diaspora. Our brand has been there for some time. UK is a market where we have Colors, Rishtey, Colors HD, MTV Beats, and we have a movie channel as well now.

Partnership with Jio

We are going to build a deeper relationship with Jio as we go forward. Some of the stuff is already happening. We want to build a lot of interactivity as well. Jio is our both parent and partner. So it makes perfect sense for us to be together. Instead of worrying about other telcos, we focus on what VOOT can do for Jio, and vice-versa. We are strengthening and deepening this partnership. We have a very dedicated partner. Jio has revolutionised the market, they are a leader in any case in data. 

Revenue model

You saw few of them (originals). Especially the last one Feet Up With The Stars coming on the AVOD platform. So I think it will be a mix, some of them will be ahead the paywall, some of them may come behind the paywall. It will depend on the timing of our launch, on our strategy. What our product offering will be, it’s premature to talk about this. We are doubling down on original content. As we will go along we will decide what comes where. But as far as AVOD is concerned these originals will also come on AVOD after windowing even these go behind the paywall.

Marketing mix

It will be a classic marketing mix. They (Voot) will get right network support that is always there. In case of certain originals, you’ll see 360 degree marketing. Otherwise, network and digital support will be there for all of our shows and that works very well for us. We’ll bring 360 for some others depending on which one and when it is being released. It depends on program to program.

TRAI's tariff order

Let me answer it in three ways. We are working on our response on the tariff order. It is premature for me to comment so I won’t comment on anything specifically. In terms of the order, it's still sub-judice in some ways because there is a further hearing in Supreme Court on 5 September, and there’s also a Delhi high court case which is on the merits of the order, so those two things are happening in parallel. You will see our response as well and I think like the other players in the industry we’ll respond early September depending on how the Supreme Court case is closed. And I have always said about this tariff order, that at the conceptual level I think it’s a good thing to do but we have to find the right ways to operationalise it. Because in principal, giving more choice to the consumer, it’s the right thing to do especially when digital is also coming in. Having said that TV has had a different phenomenon of bundling and there is some merit in bundling and giving in a bundle. So, we need to find a right balance.

Voot Kids and the freemium model

As we go forward we’ll build a portfolio play which is basically what you see currently is an AVOD play. We are going to look at Voot international, which we have announced today already, we are going to look at Voot premium, which we are working on. We’ll also look at a dedicated Voot Kids service and you will hear very shortly about that. That’s a very interesting service, so that’s something we are working on in a very different space. 

No sports offering

We’ll continue to evaluate as I have said always about sports, we'll continue to evaluate the opportunities which will come our way. Some of the big-ticket events are gone for sometime. So, they are locked out for another four-five years. Most of the cricketing properties  like IPL are out. Even the different series of Boards are also out, but we'll continue to evaluate and we’ll continue to build this.

Future of OTT industry

Two or three things that will happen I can say. One is that there is a small section that will get into smartphones, that will be consuming content more digitally even on a television, for example how Netflix is consumed in the US. I think there is a lot of work happening on infrastructure and transportation if you look at it so I see a lot of commute consumption and that will be interesting. The good news is all of it will be incremental consumption. India will  have national scale OTTs, segmented OTTs and in both you may have some national players and some international players. India is a pretty large country for it to have eight to ten very robust OTT models. Among these, four may come from content players like ourselves, there could be one or two very dedicated international players like Netflix and Amazon, there could be also two to three telco players and also some of the telco models. I think India will go the China way, it’ll be a hybrid market, there will be a large AVOD play but there will be also substantial SVOD or premium model.

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