J- What key Digital trends that are reshaping the media industry?
M- I think the biggest trend that we are witnessing right now is video as a format. If you look at it in perspective, India traditionally has been an entertainment hungry country. I think the biggest turning point in the digital sector is the launch of Jio. It forced the entire system to bring down the cost. If you look at it from a device standpoint, you realise that India has about 165 million cable and satellite homes, and about 200 million TV households but has a billion mobile connections and about 400- 450 million individuals on the internet, out of which 80% are accessing internet on smartphones. So on one side you have the enabler as a telco and on the other side you have the smartphone as a device which has the propensity to play videos on demand. Now these two are the biggest ingredients for the next revolution which is waiting to happen in online video consumption. I think that’s the trend India is going through.
J- How do you leverage digital technology to stay in sync with consumers needs/ demands?
M- As far as digital technology is concerned, it is the bedrock on which ALTBalaji was conceived. Ekta and Balaji Telefilms have had deep rooted history when it comes to creating entertaining content. The entire basis of ALT actually came about riding on the vision of alternate content for Indians. When I say alternate content, it means the content which is made for individuals rather than households. For a broadcaster or a channel, providing content that will suit a smaller audience is fundamentally not possible because he has to cater to millions. We saw the age group of 15- 35 years move away from watching traditional broadcasting. So what did they start consuming? They started consuming Narcos, House of Cards – and that’s where we leveraged technology which is why we launched a platform called ALTBalaji on April of 2017 with the intent to extend entertainment on the online platform.
We realised that there is a structural shift with TV becoming passé and smartphones enabling video consumption. So these indicated some very clear trends. Trend number one is that one doesn’t need to sit at a particular location at a particular time to watch a show and I believe that appointment viewing is gone. Today, there is no primetime because there is enough data out in the open. People are actually watching videos on the go. Trend number two is that the soap operas or the shows which were 100- 200 episodes long, today, are about 10-12 episodes long, the story arch has changed. A typical show today is about 10-12 episodes and each episode is about 20-30 minutes each. Also, it is bandwidth optimized- you can download it whenever you are next to the bandwidth so that you can consume it on the move. Trend number three is that in online world, I can actually pick up tamil shows or a gujarati show or a Bengali show and launch on my platform, which if you look at it from the TV standpoint, you’ll have to launch it through a channel separately. Therefore, the ability from a platform standpoint to take a particular language and create a 30 minute show into ten episodes and to take it to millions of people suddenly becomes a much more viable proposition. Combining digital technology with the fact that India is not an English speaking nation- we, within one year of launch, have launched 17 shows in hindi and such.
J- There has been a lot of debate on news channels maintaining a balance between credibility and speed. Your thoughts on it?
M- You can never have a healthy discussion when you have pre judged an issue. A news anchor’s job is not to judge whether something is right or wrong. His role in the society is to bring forth information which is not available. You should be very secular in nature because your job, at the end of the day, is to bring forth information and I think that’s where the regulator has to play a role as far as news is concerned, which is what they are not doing.
Now try correlating it with what is happening across the globe. We saw this humungous uproar in US about elections and fake news and how Russia had possibly something to do. The fact of the matter is, why was a platform allowed to publish what possibly was a fake news? Especially when that platform would in some manner influence the future of a country. So I think if there is one burning need today, it is to regulate news and news channels and that should happen not only from the content standpoint but also from an ownership standpoint.
J- What you’re planning at ALTBalaji- What’s in the pipeline?
M- In year one of the ALT launch, we have hundred hours of original shows which is almost what Netflix did way back in 2014. So we are about three years behind them. We have other shows in different stages of execution. Some are in the concept stage, some of them have already hit the floor. I think in our next year, we are keenly focused on the content. So we will end up doing two times of what we have done in Year one. Apart from hindi, we are looking at more languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannad. Analytics and technology form the bedrock of what we do. So we are going to focus on that and will also use it as raw material for the new programming that we will do.