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We intend to take our direct subscriptions to double-digit figures: Nachiket Pantvaidya

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Pantvaidya, the Group COO of Balaji Telefilms and CEO of ALTBalaji, speaks about the platform’s performance in the year gone by and its plans to build a robust content catalogue in FY22

Balaji Telefilms Group COO and ALTBalaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya is confident that his company’s subscription OTT platform ALTBalaji will break-even in FY22. While the pandemic derailed plans of most businesses, Pantvaidya notes that the OTT business adapted to the change and stayed afloat. He also states that Tier-2 and 3 cities have emerged as key markets for ALTBalaji. In order to amplify the reach of its content, ALTBalaji has also partnered with short-video platforms like Roposo, Chingari, and Firework.
In the coming year, ALTBalaji will focus on building a content catalogue that serves inclusive as well as individualistic viewing. In an interview with exchange4media.com, Pantvaidya said that the platform has also ramped its production machinery to be able to create at least 40 shows a year targeted at the Hindi mass market.
 
Excerpts:

What are ALTBalaji’s plans for FY22? Which are the key focus areas for the platform?

At ALTBalaji, we intend to be the dominant player catering to the Indian market especially tier II, tier III towns, and hinterlands at price points that reflect affordability desired by them and testified basis our consumption data from these markets for 70+ shows over the last three years.

In the coming year, we will focus on building a content catalogue that serves inclusive and individualistic viewing, for which we have ramped our production machinery to be able to create at least 40 shows a year targeted at these markets. We have also created an efficient model to manage costs at less than one-third of what the market spends today while continuing to reign as a leader in the number of original show launches. We believe that we can target growth in the youth segment over and above male and female target audience aged between 20-40 and intend to double our direct subscriptions to double-digit figures in the coming year.

 
How has 9M FY21 been for ALTBalaji from a content and business point of view?

We noticed a significant rise in the amount of time spent consuming content across urban and rural cities. For instance, in the pre-pandemic era, 60% of our consumers would come from top tier 1 cities, and 40% would come from Tier 2 and 3 cities. Today, however, it is vice versa. A majority of our audience is from the remotest cities of the country. The year certainly acted as a catalyst in transforming the content consumption habits of the audience, converting fence-sitters to subscribers, thereby increasing our subscription base as well as analyzing the existing ones who interacted more frequently with the platform.

The year also saw consumers show an affinity for short video apps. To connect with them, we associated with short video apps like Roposo, Chingari, and Firework as a part of our strategy to amplify our objective of massifying content for Bharat at large. Being an SVOD platform, our focus is to engage with the audience and expand our reach and give them a glimpse of the diverse content we have to offer.

To what extent did your FY21 business plans get derailed due to the pandemic?
The pandemic and its effects across businesses left most industries at a standstill with none of us prepared for it. The OTT industry still adapted to the change and stayed afloat. However, due to shooting restrictions, we had to stop the work for a while, which affected the outflow of fresh content but, with a new content strategy and innovative approach, we managed to deliver new shows throughout.

Will ALTBalaji break-even in Q4 or Q1 FY22?
We are optimistic of breaking even by FY22. 2020 has also played a catalytic process in putting us on track to become the first profitable OTT platform, and we seek to break even and become a Rs 150 crore entity with at least 100 original shows by 2021.

ALTBalaji was adding 15-17K daily subscribers before the pandemic which has come down to 9K? What is the reason for this and when do you expect to hit pre-Covid numbers again?
ALTBalaji was adding 15-17 K subscribers in the first few months of the lockdown, and we were certain that this jump was registered due to the pandemic induced lockdown – during which viewers had more time at their disposal. The lockdown situation though an anomaly introduced a wider set of audiences to OTT.

Now our focus remains on our long-term plan of creating unique narratives and relatable Indian originals for the masses. We are concentrating on consumer segmentation behavior, understanding how to retain the customers better, and working on onboarding the new segment that has just been acquainted with the internet.

What is ALTBalaji’s paid subscriber base and of that, how much is direct subscriptions?
We have been consistently doubling our subscribers base, owing to our extensive library of 70+ originals across genres that cater to all audience segments. Our shows are a mix of thriller, drama, romance, youth drama, horror, comedy, amongst others. Following which, today, we host over 1.7 Mn+ active direct subscribers, 8.5 Mn+ monthly active users, and 35 million+ cumulative subscribers, growing rapidly.

How many original shows did you launch in 9M FY21 and what is the target for Q4?
We launched 15+ original series in the FY21 and aim to launch 6-10 shows in the last quarter of the year.

Will ALTBalaji continue to focus on the Hindi mass market or are you also looking at regional markets?
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. Taking this thought forward, we are continuing to lay impetus towards the massification of content for the Bharat Audience by expanding our footprint across core markets.

In the coming months, we will gradually move towards other regional markets. Looking at the diversity in the audience’s taste and preference, we need to provide at least 10-12 shows per language to attract viewers of that respective language. Catering to a wider and diverse audience group, we do see a host of our Hindi offerings dubbed in Indian and International languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bhasa, Arabic, etc., amongst others. With each of these languages having its unique appeal and local flavour, we shall look to expand our regional language content library soon.

What is the progress of ALTBalaji’s international expansion? What are the plans going forward?
Presently, 18% of the traction comes from the global audience, organically. ALTBalaji has a fair share of an international audience that download and watch our content across the US, UK, Canada, Australia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia markets. These are our efforts from direct performance marketing, retention, and organic engagement via our direct source channels. As far as our subscription rates in these foreign markets go, the quarterly subscription of ALTBalaji’s content library is available for $4.99, with the annual subscription priced at $12.99.

How is the deal with ZEE5 progressing and how has ALTBalaji gained from this association?
The long-standing association between ZEE and Balaji Telefilms has seen the two media houses collaborate for close to 25 years. With ZEE5’s incredible penetration across the Indian diaspora and ALTBalaji’s insights into concepts and audience analytics, this is a collaboration that is based on leveraging mutual competencies. To offer audience exclusive content across both OTT platforms, ZEE5 and ALTBalaji today co-create original shows. This association is a collective process of co-understanding consumer insights and co-marketing to serve the viewer better resulting in improved monetization for both streaming platforms.

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