Mumbai: Having endured two difficult years due to Covid-19, travel channel Travelxp is now looking at strong growth. Travelxp co-founder & CEO Prashant Chothani said that the broadcaster, which recently launched in Portugal, will also expand its presence in 10 more countries in future. It will also triple the content output compared to pre-Covid. He mentioned that the broadcaster is profitable while noting that content costs have more than doubled, in part due to sharply rising airfares.
In an interaction with Indiantelevision.com, he said, "We have just launched in Portugal, which is our 81st country and 21st language. We will launch in 10 more countries in the upcoming months. We will soon be introducing a dedicated feed for Latin America. The aim is to enter more markets. We will ramp up our content & production initiatives to make up for the time that we lost due to Covid-19. As you know, we are a travel channel and nobody could travel. So, producing travel content was impossible. That was the biggest drawback. Now we are ramping up content production like never before. The aim is to cater to the accelerated market growth and demand."
Growing during Covid-19: In India, the channel is produced in English and then dubbed into Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil. More Indian languages will come by the end of the year or the beginning of next year. "We will launch at least three to four new languages in India.” He maintains that the channel is profitable.
He added, “Even during Covid-19, our subscription revenues almost doubled worldwide. 95 per cent of our revenues come from subscriptions. During Covid-19 we did several distribution deals. People were sitting at home and viewing the world. We have almost grown two times. India was stagnant. 95 per cent of our revenues come from subscriptions. We are largely a subscription-driven business globally. Advertising is something that we introduced recently."
"Audiences' minds are open when they watch us, and they are in a great mood to receive advertiser messages. The communication impact is much higher. People are in a happy state of mind when they watch us. We have very high-end advertisers who value the kind of audience that we bring. The plan going forward is to ramp up marketing initiatives, affiliate marketing initiatives, and work with platforms around the world. Viewers will be updated on the content being produced," Chothani said.
Content costs: He noted that the content production costs have at least doubled and, in some cases, have tripled. The cost of travel has shot up. "The flight that earlier cost Rs 40,000 now costs Rs 1,20,000. Also, content production costs are at an all-time high. But at the same time, we will produce three times the amount of content compared to pre-Covid. We have to do justice to the platforms that we are present on. We have to showcase not only good but the best quality content."
Distribution: He maintains that not being part of a distribution network is not an issue. Today, he said, with the NTO (new tariff order), Trai wants to de-bundle. Success, he maintains, is about a channel’s USP and not being part of a network. "Nobody produces the kind of content that we do. We have penetrated globally, and that shows the strength of our content. We talk to mainstream audiences in various countries. In India too, there is an advantage. It all does not boil down to the network. That is irrelevant if the content is bad. If the content is good, anybody can sell it." He added that NTO will keep on evolving. "People have different views on it. It is confusing. Where it will go, there is no clarity. It is caught between regulation and litigation. There is also no clarity between linear and non-linear as the latter is not regulated."
"The distribution platforms have been impacted more. People work around it, which means that you adjust your business plans. There is both a B2B2C and D2C business. It depends on where you are and how you are being impacted. I think that DD Freedish may be a bigger issue for some broadcasters and platforms than the NTO. With changing times, channels have to change. If viewership is falling for a channel, then the programming strategy for that channel may not be correct. Or in the case of a platform, maybe the platform does not have the channel that subscribers want. It is not that viewership per se is falling. It is just that viewers have gone elsewhere. For us, we are happy with the viewership."
At the same time, he also noted that distribution platforms have to make an effort to educate consumers about the content available on various channels. In a B2B2C, the B in the middle has to properly market to the C at the end. "There has to be the proper focus between both the Bs to reach out to the C."
Content strategy: In terms of shows on Travelxp, he said that they are about the destination, food, culture, history, and heritage. The aim is to have the travel experience percolate into the viewer’s mind. "It is about having travel content that is informative, well researched, and produced with the highest production quality. This makes the difference. It is not a fiction show where you have to think of new stories. We have to ideate new ways of experiential travel that can be introduced and what new destinations in the content line-up can be showcased. Till now, we have filmed in 65 odd countries. There are always new ways of presenting content and presenting a destination. Each piece of content is unique. It is completely different."
Shedding light on the amount of time it takes to produce a show, he said, "It takes nine to 10 months to create a show of two to three hours. Research takes two months at least. One month is spent on pre-production, getting the required permissions, etc. One to 1.5 months is spent on production. Then two months are devoted to post-production in terms of things like colouring, grading, etc. It is like making a movie. We will make a movie about that destination. You cannot go wrong when it comes to research. It is not like filming for a social media platform. You cannot take away from what they are doing, but the audience there consumes it for fun."
"People consume us for information, knowledge, entertainment, and infotainment. People come to us. On social media, travel content comes to you. It is content that comes by the way. People, on the other hand, watch Travelxp by appointment," he explained.
The travel scenario: He noted that right now there is a huge boom in travel and it is about revenge travel. But he also explains that things will be moderated in a few months. He does not think that Covid-19 and monkeypox will be a challenge. People, he noted today, do not care about it. "I don’t think people are even bothered about them. Nobody is withdrawing from travel due to any threat. Unless something dramatic happens, there will be no impact," he said.
The potential inflation impact: He does, however, concede that inflation is a challenge. The challenge will be seen months down the line. That is because people plan their travels slightly in advance. So the inflation impact on travel will come up pretty late. There is a time lag. He noted, "The cause and effect time lag will be there, and at the same time, revenge travel will settle down. Between 3-6 months, you will see revenge travel moderately. Things will become real."
"Inflationary pressures will add to the travel impact. There will be a scale down from the travel levels that are being seen now. This is a temporary travel boom being seen now. My hope, though, is that more and more people will want to travel now, which will be very good for us and other travel stakeholders. Earlier, travel was a luxury. Now people view travel as a necessity."
Travelxp, he added, also plays the role of a memory re-collector for viewers who have visited a destination that is being showcased. "It is also a great infotainment entertainer. You want informational content that gives you relief from the pressure of the inflationary times that we live in. Viewers get refreshed and inspired by our content. Viewers relive memories with us. People remember our content for a long, long time."
The challenge: Right now, the challenge for the travel industry is that the stakeholders, like airports, are struggling to cope with the huge demand. "Fares are exorbitantly high; airports and hotels are facing financial pressure. Revenge travel is happening. People just want to travel. We are exploring new destinations. We are also revisiting destinations that we have covered in the past, and we aim to show viewers how they can explore the same destination in a new way. Our job is to excite travellers," he said.
Being about the big screen: On digital, Travelxp has an app which was launched in the previous quarter. But he stressed that content created is meant to be watched on the television set, not on the mobile. That is why features like augmented reality will not play a role in Travelxp.
"Travelxp is a big-screen television experience. We are not producing content for mobile phones. There you fight with the likes of Youtube and Instagram, where user-generated content comes into play. Television cannot work for augmented reality. Even on non-linear apps, everything has shifted to the television set."
He also noted that it is a false statement that content viewership is migrating from TV to OTT. People are also taking OTT and are also watching linear TV. It remains to be seen if OTT growth remains high. The base was low, he explains. In the long run, the current distribution platforms like Tata Play and Hathway will offer an aggregated offering of linear and non-linear. The aggregator model also has a role in Travelxp’s distribution plans, he explains. "The future will see everything available. You can buy an app on a standalone basis and also through the aggregator route, where both TV channels and OTT apps are available in one place."