Veera Desai Road in suburban Mumbai is loosely dubbed the filmmakers' lane in the country, for there stand tall Yash Raj Studios, Balaji Telefilms and a slew of television production houses. Somewhere there, is also the office of One Digital Entertainment (ODE), the online video player.
In 2012, former director, digital media, MTV, Gurpreet Singh, partnered with Shabir Momin, CEO, Zenga TV to start a new Multi Channel Network (MCN) - One Digital Entertainment. "Yaar, MCN has become an abusive word... people think of one as only a YouTube Multi Channel Network," Singh, chief operating officer and co-founder, ODE, tells afaqs!, adding, "Ours is a more hybrid business model... Yes, everyone started out by being an MCN and so did we. In fact, we are a YouTube certified network. But now even YouTube is doing away with the 'MCN' tag... they now call us 'Enterprise Partners'."
When Singh says "hybrid," he means a multi specialty floor, filled with 35 odd young professionals wearing whatever they want to. "We have a full-fledged, in-house production team and editing suites. We produce massive videos, we have audio studios where we create music, operate like a music label and sell that music to various distribution platforms."
ODE spots talent and then helps it evolve. With this evolution of talent comes money and that is an avenue for revenue for the digital network. But how is the talent spotted?
"No, we don't have scouts or agencies 'on field' auditioning talent for us. It happens through our daily interactions with people, in normal life. You need to keep your eyes open. We also get around 200 emails every day from people who want to collaborate with us; we do filter from there too," answers Singh.
The result of one such 'real life' interaction is Prajakta Koli, of 'Mostly Sane' fame - that's the name of her YouTube channel. "Fever (FM Radio Station) is a client of ours and we were there for a meeting. That's where we found her. She had no plans of launching a YouTube channel. We insisted." And then? "She did not reply for three months," he says, "... then she came to our office thinking we were keen on interviewing her for a job. That's when we told her that we believed in her talent and that she should use it in video."
After the talent mining phase, the network assists them with in-house production facilities to create content, after which comes step two - distribution. ODE uses its network to promote the content. About this, Singh says, "Gaurav Gera ('Chutki' on YouTube) is our client, as is Raftaar (the rapper)... we collaborate across our network to promote content through each other's channels."
After she was 'discovered', 23-year-old Prajakta, who wanted to be a radio jockey, landed over 165K subscribers on her aforementioned YouTube channel. She has recently inked a deal with Yatra.com and her video 'Shameless', touching distance away from a million views, has become a new anthem of sorts for a lot of young eves. It features artistes like Raghav, Mithila Palkar and Raftaar.
"The video was shot in-house," says Singh about 'Shameless', adding, "The reach increases with the presence of other artistes..." He adds about the inception, "While going through Prajakta's fan-mail, we read many letters from young people going through depression. That's when we said, "Let's do this."."
Say Prajakta feels like moving on from One Digital Entertainment, she can. With her, she can take her channel and all the videos on it. The Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) stay with the artiste. Isn't that a risky arrangement?
"That's the nature of the business," shrugs Singh, "See, it's a rev-share partnership and that's our business model. She is signed with us not only for digital but as an artiste, the way Bollywood celebs are signed with Kwan (CAA Kwan, a talent management company led by Anirban Das Blah, MD). We look after brand deals for our artistes and even take them on-ground."
The network also dons the hat of a creative agency and pitches different ideas to brands. "That's where we bust the 'MCN perception'," Singh says.
Recently, when Nokia was planning a comeback in the Indian market, ODE pitched an idea to the brand, about which Singh says, "We went to Nokia and said, "Let's re-create the signature tune." We roped in Ehsaan and Loy to compose it along with our artistes Shirley Setia, Darshan Raval, DJ Chetas and Aditi Singh Sharma. The idea was to get our artistes to request their viewers to create their own mash-up and send it to us... and to take that user-generated content to Ehsaan and Loy and turn it into a music video."
Other brands that ODE has worked with include Vodafone, Micromax, Mahindra Gusto and Gionee.
"We do more than a billion views a month," Singh says. But how does he describe his firm? "When we create content we are a production house, when we deal with artistes we are a talent management company and when we pitch ideas to a brand we are a digital, creative agency," he says, clarifying, nevertheless, "Getting a brand on board is instant profit, but that's not our major focus. We are a 'creator company'. For us, our artistes are our primary focus; there have been times when we opted out of a deal because we felt the artiste was not given his or her due."
What's the big challenge for Singh and team? "We aspire to be the Zee, Star or Viacom18 of digital. Look at them today; they are creating content across genres. Viacom18 has a Colors catering to the GEC audience, MTV for the youth, Nick for kids, VH1 for music... we also want to do all of that on digital," he says.