"The strangest part is that the simplest of things end up working," is how Roshan Abbas sums-up his Mumbai-based collective of artistes, 'Kommune' at vdonxt asia, our recently held convention on the business of online video.
Three years back, Abbas along with Gaurav Kapoor and Ankur Tewari, toyed with the idea of creating a platform for performing arts and ended up setting up a venture which takes live performances to the masses through digital videos. At the session titled, 'The art of storytelling', Abbas said that the hypothesis behind Kommune is live art, addressing emotional dyslexia created by the "outsourcing of the brain" to mobile phones.
He said, "Creating a performance is one thing, but putting it up is totally different. It means getting licenses, gathering audiences and finding a venue." Abbas and team found several "Bohemian venues" in Mumbai where the live shows could take place free of cost. However, the task was to attract audiences. Abbas shared, "After twenty years of television experience, I knew that ultimately it's the name that sells. So, I got a bunch of our friends who are in the performing arts and are very well known as television personalities, theatre artistes and daily soap actors." Abbas utilised a mix of known and unknown faces to narrate stories which he labels as the "simplest form of communication".
"The only thing that we added to this live storytelling platform was a video camera. We started shooting these people and putting up these eight to nine-minute-long videos on Facebook and YouTube. That's how we created this place called Kommune," informed Abbas. Interestingly, the team started shooting some of the earlier sessions on mobile-phones. As the videos quickly travelled across the country and gained popularity, Abbas realised the benefits of content-digitisation, due to which one could create content for no cost at all.
Abbas shared, "We brought a small mic and camera and started travelling. We went to SIMC and over there we did a session of storytelling with a bunch of students. When we finished the session, we had ten new storytellers from that room. Two of whom then went on to become regular storytellers with us."
He then introduced, Hussain Haidry who presented a piece titled, 'Hindustani Musalman' to the live audience. Haidry, who once handled the finances of a Kolkata based firm, now works as a poet in Mumbai and has penned down the lyrics of the recently released film 'Mukkabaaz'. But his journey started at Kommune. "There was this one camera and him," said Abbas, "Again, the whole idea is that you can create content very simply, as long as you can create the tribe which wants to consume it. It's very important to find your tribe. If you are a cyclist and you can put up videos of cycling, you will find your audience!"
Speaking about monetisation, Abbas said that it doesn't come from YouTube subscriptions or ads which play in between videos. He said, "Our monetisation actually comes from a live audience which gathers for these events. So there is a way of reverse-monetising your content as well. We get about a hundred people who come for what we call the Kommune workshops which we do for corporate clients and also for general people. They pay Rs 250-300 per person and we normally end up getting 50-100 people. In an evening, when you end up getting Rs 25,000-50,000, it is enough to cover the cost of creation."
Kommune enjoys a following of 1,70,000 people on YouTube and Abbas asserted that it is all "organic". He added, "I am not a marketer who is looking for a million likes. I am a creator who is looking for a hundred-thousand people who will genuinely 'like' that content and when they do, they appreciate what we do." Later, Abbas presented Shamir Reuben, an Indian slam poet, to Kommune, who recited a heartfelt poem titled, 'Dear Mom'.
Abbas concluded the session with this question: "How many of you think that this (Kommune) could be created into a subscription-based service?" The audience responded in the affirmative...