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Viacom18 charts AVoD, SVoD paths

Voot as a platform was primarily in the AVOD space. We were entirely focused on AVOD while others were experimenting. That’s helped in building the business core. It was only in the last financial year that we launched our paid subscription services, Voot Kids and Voot Select. We were children of the lockdown—we launched Voot Select in the first week of March [2020]. There was a fair bit of sampling on the platform. We launched with a show titled AsurAsur is still number two in terms of originals across the entire spectrum. That kicked off a nice journey for us and we’ve continued to launch originals since then. We’re not playing the volume game with Voot Select and most of the originals we have launched are highly rated. The Voot Select: Made for Stories tag line worked well. The nice thing is that Voot as a platform was already well accepted. We experimented with Big Boss, a marquee property where we added some of the content behind the paywall, which worked well too.

TV ASIA: Tell us about the differentiation between Voot and Voot Select.
RAKSHIT: We have shows that are available on both Voot and Voot Select. While Voot is in the catch-up space, our TV shows will always go first on Voot Select, which is before the television telecast. We have exclusives like live feeds into the Big Boss house, which is completely unprecedented. We also have an international library of content, including Shark TankLove Island and Your Honor, and our originals—that’s the proposition on Voot Select.

TV ASIA: How is Voot Kids doing?
RAKSHIT: It’s been a fascinating journey. There’s nothing else like Voot Kids in the market in terms of its multi-format content. While video is a large part of it, we have games, read-along audiobooks, puzzles and more. There’s an appreciation for this holistic experience and it’s incredibly sticky. Our time spent per user is significantly higher than any adult video consumption category, including Voot Select, or any other OTT platform you name.

TV ASIA: What role do acquisitions play in the overall lineup?
RAKSHIT: Our network content is extremely valuable in building a base, but to get people to pay, you have to go more into the exclusive zone. You have to go beyond what’s available [on other services] to create a paying proposition. People will pay for content that is unique and exclusive.

TV ASIA: What are your thoughts on the sustainability of the premium OTT drama market? Are there enough production companies capable of feeding this demand? Budgets seem to be skyrocketing.
RAKSHIT: One is the financial aspect of it. It is going to be expensive. Every business needs to have that roadmap to profitability. While there is a lot more spending than there is return right now, the growth rate of subscription services in India is also staggering. So, in that sense, it will catch up. As for supply, in this pandemic, there haven’t been a lot of new theatrical releases, so there’s a lot of talent available. We will still have supply constraints, but the appetite isn’t going down. We’ve seen some level of a shakeout.

The big broadcasters have large content pools, which is a big asset as television content is available. Some of the more niche players are trying to figure it out. While it’s expensive. we’re fortunate that we’re part of a larger organization that makes content for television—that can help profitably.

TV ASIA: What opportunities are there to take Voot Select to Indian communities across the globe?
RAKSHIT: This is something we will be more active with. We want to be present in the international market. COLORS, which was a late entrant in the market, has seen great success. That’s the way we operate—it is a little more deliberate. We give our businesses a chance to find their feet before we move to the next expansion. We launched Voot Select last March and have crossed the 1 million direct subscriber mark in less than a year. So we’re very comfortable to start off with our international expansion. There was always a fear that if you’re late, people won’t know you exist. But that’s not true. People want to seek out content.

TV ASIA: When do you expect the SVOD/AVOD revenue split to be 50-50?
RAKSHIT: We were more or less flat [on the AVOD side amid lockdown]. The subscription business is growing much faster. I think it’s conceivable that we’ll be going shoulder to shoulder in those two businesses in the next three years or so.

TV ASIA: We’re seeing many reports about subscriber stacking in the U.S., with some homes now paying for up to seven or eight services. How do you see that situation playing out in India?
RAKSHIT: The top 2 or 3 million users can afford to be on multiple services. Once you get into middle India, we see them on 2, maybe 3 services; 2.5 is the sweet spot. From what we are witnessing, people are continuously and actively making choices.

TV ASIA: I recall that in late 2019 or early 2020, Jio and other telcos increased their mobile data rates. Has that had any impact on the growth of the OTT landscape in India?
RAKSHIT: All the data providers had a marginal escalation in prices, which hasn’t negatively affected consumption. We are in the middle of a pandemic—that does change things a little bit! I do know that fiber costs have come down in the country, so we’re seeing huge consumption on television as well.

TV ASIA: What are your key priorities for Voot, Voot Select and Voot Kids this year?
RAKSHIT: Voot is about getting the maximum audience. We’ve been very successful on the back of building more interactive engagement for our users. Fans were able to engage with participants of TV shows. We launched some more engagement IPs like these. This has seen significant momentum. I think we’ll double down there. That experience is unique and we’re very comfortable with AVOD as a platform. We also see ourselves going deeper into regional. While we do have a strong play in a few markets, there’s a bunch of regional markets we’ll start exploring more aggressively. On Select, we’ll continue to build our library. We’ve had a taste of what people like; we think we have a better pulse on it now. That is dictating what our new slate will look like. We’re quite excited about that. What’s worked for us is the intense focus on story. Whether it’s high production, medium production or low production, we’ve found that story is what we can be known for and that is where we spend most of our time. As for Voot Kids, we’ve had a lot of learnings from our launch. We’re now going to go wider and start building up our exclusive content. We’ve taken library content that may be exclusive to us, but we’re going to start launching more originals as well so we can create unique propositions.

I do think that partners are also going to play a much more pivotal role going forward. We’re seeing the emergence of intermediaries and the role of aggregation. That’s going to be part of our play moving forward. We’re already tied up with many players, but I see that being more strategic going forward. We will be present everywhere, be agile and figure out where we need to double down. World Screen

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