Anirban Roy Choudhury

"Behind the rosy PR stories, survival is really tough for everybody.": Archana Anand, Zee Digital

In June last year, India's oldest OTT platform, Subhash Chandra's media conglomerate ZEEL owned, Ditto TV sort of re-launched itself as a more massy product - available at Rs 20 per month, slashed down from Rs 150 per month. Head of digital-India, Z5 business, Archana Anand candidly calls it, TV at the price of 'Samosa' and 'Vada Pav'.

How has life changed after the price-cut? What happens as Ten Sports goes off? Where is Zee digital heading to? Anand draws light to all these questions in an interview with afaqs!

Edited Excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

How has life been after you brought down your pricing and re-launched Ditto TV?

We were the pioneers in launching an OTT platform in India. We launched Ditto five years ago but for whatever reason, we did not make a lot of noise about it. In June last year, we re-launched it with a strong sense of creating a differential proposition. That is the time when we decided to slash our price down to Rs 20 and run a campaign - Bees (Rs 20) ka TV. The idea is clear. We want to democratise TV, we want everybody to have access to TV and that is why the price point was decided at Rs 20 per month, which is similar to one vada pav or samosa. We backed the price slashing decision with a loud campaign and that has brought us huge success.

When you say success what do you mean? Also, whom were you targeting with the new product?

We were clear that this is not an urban phenomenon; we were looking at sec B, sec C and rural audiences. So, our communication did not urge people to go to app store. We were clear that our audience will not be able to relate to the "go to app store" terminology. All we told people to do is give a missed call and in three weeks' time we got over seven lakh missed calls which gave us a clear idea about how many people are actually interested in the '20 ka TV' offering. This is the success I was talking about. Moreover, sitting at this point, I can say that re-strategising has been the biggest victory for us till date.

"Behind the rosy PR stories, survival is really tough for everybody.": Archana Anand, Zee Digital
In what other way did the price slash help you?

This pricing allowed me to go and tie-up with telcos, making them the payment gateway. Online payment continues to remain a challenge in the digital ecosystem and especially the audience we are targeting may or may not have credit or debit cards, so the telco tie-ups were crucial for us. It's good for the telcos too; we hear from them that live TV consumption is more compared to movies, which is a really positive sign.

But, is the Rs 20 ka TV a sustainable model for you?

20 ka TV is a volume game for us and we are only able to sustain because it is a volume game through telco partnerships. The other big thing is that because the telcos are driving it strongly to drive their own data, it's a bundled offering which is a fantastic way of bulk acquisition.

You are dependent on a telco to some extent. In the west, we saw an AT&T and Warner partnership, in India we have a Reliance Jio launching Jio TV with over 500 channels. How challenging is it to depend on a telco in the long run? All the telcos might launch their own platform. What happens to a platform like Ditto TV then?

It all depends upon how much a telco wants to diversify from its core business. The content business is a totally different ball game; running an OTT platform is extremely challenging. It would be much smarter for a telco to ride on the back of someone for whom the content business is a key focus area. I don't see telcos launching their own platforms as a challenge. Remember, they might have a lot of money to put in setting up a platform but for content, they will have to be dependent on the media farms. However, a media house getting into OTT doesn't have to depend on a telco. Ditto TV chooses to have that dependency because of the pricing.

Ditto TV also needs to have broadcasters on board since it is a surrogate of TV. Colors went off recently and broadcasters are coming up with their own VOD platforms. How challenging is that?

Broadcasters coming up with their own digital platforms is not a problem. Even when I re-launched Ditto TV with Bigg Boss and Colors on the platform, Viacom18's digital platform existed. So, them having their VOD platform is not the actual reason for going off from Ditto, it is something else. Something obvious which I don't want to talk about. If I had an option to associate with a partner like Ditto TV, I would have done it happily. At the end of the day it is all about reaching the last mile.

What drives the consumption for Ditto TV and how is it different from a non-live TV platform?

Whenever there is a sporting event we witness a spike in consumption and the other time we see a spike is for breaking news. Data cost has come down but it's still expensive, so for TV shows and other content which are not live, people are choosing comfortable time and space, which is a high speed wi-fi zone. Live TV consumption on the other hand, is usually fueled by some kind of urgency. Sports drive urgency, breaking news drives urgency and in such moments, data cost concern becomes a secondary proposition.

You now don't have a key driver of yours... Ten Sports is now a part of Sony Pictures and they stream content live on Sony LIV. What about that gap?

Yes the group decided to sell off Ten Sports and we do not have sports in our offering anymore. We were expecting our numbers to go down, we were scared about it because Ten Sports had a great following on Ditto TV and as I told you sports drive consumption. But incidentally, we did not see a decline in the numbers which I am very happy about. My assessment is that the high numbers we are getting from the regional GECs has compensated for that.

What about original or only digital content? Did you make a foray into that with your web-series, Strugglers?

Strugglers was an original show that we created for both Ditto and Ozee, but because we brought in a pricing strategy of 20 ka TV, we decided that on Ditto TV, it will be only Live TV and on Ozee which is an AVOD (Advertising Video on Demand) platform, we will showcase only Zee content. This is what mathematics supports and this is what we will be doing. We are not looking at original content at this stage for either platform.

How do you see the online video space at this stage? Is it an extremely difficult space to be in?

I think consolidation is bound to happen in the space and it is just a matter of time. It definitely helps businesses like ours, because we come with the backing of huge media houses. Content is not an issue for us because being a part of the Zee conglomerate, we are sitting in an absolute goldmine of content. I feel it is a little tougher for the smaller players.

Let's look at it like this, what are the three heads that cost us? Content, marketing and streaming (technology). We are sitting on content so that part is taken care of. Now marketing and streaming. Marketing becomes very supportive when you are a part of a media house and have so many channels across genres. So, it is only the streaming that costs. This is a business you will only survive in if you have deep pockets.

Today, everybody is chasing the OTT dream, we all believe that tomorrow the ecosystem will be fantastic; advertising and subscription revenue will flow and when it happens, we all want to be there. We all are struggling today and that is because the Indian ecosystem has not reached the optimal point for digital business yet. At the same time, you cannot say that I will enter the business when it's all done. By then someone else will capture the market. Behind all the rosy PR stories, the reality is that survival is really tough for everybody today.