The pandemic, it seems, has been kind to digital streamers, with OTT players in India observing a steady spike in subscriptions.
ALTBalaji, a platform emerging on the country’s digital frontier, is reportedly adding 17,000 subscriptions per day as compared to its average of 10,600 in March.
The company has also reported signs of breaking even and even posting a profit, no small feat amid the slowdown. In this interview, Nachiket Pantvaidya, Group COO, Balaji Telefilms and CEO, ALTBalaji, speaks about taking the brand to the next level. Excerpts…
ALTBalaji recorded a revenue growth of 88% in the new FY. Other OTT players have also observed massive surges. Is it fair to say the lockdown has been a major boom for streamers?
India’s direct-to-stream video industry has witnessed an incremental growth of 240 percent between 2016 and 2019, and it will continue to grow at the current pace. That said, the lockdown has certainly played a vital role in propelling subscription growth across OTT platforms. With the Indian market being one of the most profitable ones, the future certainly looks promising for OTT.
What shifts in audience behaviour have you observed?
In the initial phase, India being a price-sensitive market, there was skepticism amongst the audience to pay for digital content.
However, the mindset is gradually changing as audiences today are willing to pay for quality content. Also, as television and theatres were dominating the audience for years, the digital screen is a refreshing change where they appreciate unique narratives.
You have spoken about focusing on Tier 3 and 4 cities while also venturing into regional programming. What’s your present strategy for these areas?
At ALTBalaji, we are currently focusing on ensuring that we dominate the Hindi-speaking markets and then move ahead.
As a subscription-led streaming platform, it makes even more sense to concentrate our efforts in one direction and win over the mainstream populace as 70% of the content in India is consumed in Hindi. In the coming months, we will gradually move towards other regional markets.
Looking at the diversity in audience taste, we need to provide at least 10-12 shows per language to attract viewers of that respective language. The next 9-12 months will see us build our multilingual library, starting with the Southern region with the launch of a slew of vernacular shows. Catering to a wide and diverse audience, we do see a host of our Hindi offerings dubbed in Indian and International languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bhasa and Arabic.
There’s been an outbreak of direct-to-digital releases. Your recent production, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, released on Netflix.
ALTBalaji is not in the game of movie acquisition. We are rather spending the amount in creating original web-series content. Though we have a few movies on our platform which were added to the library in the beginning, we were clear that our strategy will be originals.
What upcoming titles have resumed production under ALT?
The pandemic has slowed down work, but as shooting for our shows have started, our viewers can expect a handful of shows in the next few months. We recently launched the second season of Virgin Bhasskar.
We also launched Bebaakee, for which the shoot is simultaneously ongoing. We have also announced an exciting line-up which includes web-shows like Bicchoo Ka Khel, Dark7White, Bang Bang, along with new episodes of Dil Hi Toh Hai already on its way. From October, you will see a pipeline of three-four shows being launched per month.
You have registered an uptake in female viewership in smaller cities. What does this mean for content creation?
With an extensive library of 64 originals across genres, the shows at ALTBalaji are a mix of thriller, drama, romance, youth drama, horror, comedy, amongst others.
Though we are witnessing a gradual uptake of female viewers on the platform, each of our show is created keeping in mind the audience’s interest across demographic and sociographic segments and not just gender. We will continue with this strategy.
With the expanding internet penetration across India, do you see OTT platforms riding the waves in the coming quarters?
Today, India has the world’s second-largest internet user base, and it’s growing. Though metros and non-metros might be well connected on the digital map, the challenge here is to place rural India, the smallest of the villages, on this map.
With the PM’s latest announcement on 74th Independence Day, where over six lakh villages will connect through an optical fibre cable, it will definitely boost the consumption of digital content and act as a boon for OTT.
Have the recent stream of controversies and backlash caused any doubt regarding content?
While being a responsible platform, we have always strived for self-censorship where the final choice remains on the viewer’s discretion.
Keeping the audience at the core of our offerings, we have always been transparent and valued audience sentiments.
With the Universal Self-Regulation Code in place, we are certain that the audience will be empowered in making informed choices. Also, the grievance redressal body will further streamline the process.(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)