Anirban Roy Choudhury

"Our originals won't be free; I believe Indians will pay for quality content..."

Says Archana Anand of Zee5 when we spoke to her about her OTT platform's upcoming titles - 90 of them.

Normally a Zee conference is an exhibition of India's traditional richness, Big bold "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" is seen around and the messaging is all about empowering women, appreciating traditions and celebrating regional diversities. But the setup of its recent event where the Subhash Chandra conglomerate announced the content lineup of its newly launched video-on-demand platform Zee5 was vastly different. The writing on the wall was - Backchodi Ka Naya Address - youth and exuberance was the ambience...

That was not the only thing unusual about the announcement; since the last couple of years the American style of classifying original content as 'Originals' has garnered a lot of prominence in India, thanks to the rapid growth of video on demand service providers in the country. But the announcement is generally about one particular show which is going to be available on a particular date on a particular platform. That was not the case here. Amit Goenka, CEO - International Broadcast Business and Z5 Global, took the stage and announced that 20 original titles will be available for subscribers to stream by April end. He went on to say the subscription-based video on demand platform will release 90 original titles in its first year. The 'Originals' comprise web-series, digital-first feature films and short films across genres in Hindi and other regional languages.

"Our originals won't be free; I believe Indians will pay for quality content..."

Subscription packs of Zee5
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We spoke to Archana Anand, Head Digital, Zee5 India on the sideline of the event... here is what she had to say: "Slightly edgier content for the millennial audience has been the focus. We need to create fabulous digital content, which is for the millennial audience, which is slightly edgier than what we see on TV and which spans many genres. This was the focus within the organisation and Punit Goenka has been instrumental in shaping it. Once we had that in place we went on evaluating every avenue; we had ideas which were brainstormed within the organisation itself, we associated with partners who created the shows and then we had others pitching shows to us and we decided to go ahead with the ones we were confident about."

Edited Excerpts

You announced about 20 titles today; will we get to see all of them from today itself?

The 20 titles we announced today, all of them will be available for subscribers to stream by the end of April. We have charted a plan for us and in the first year itself, we will release about 90 originals.

Will you make available all episodes of each show at one go for subscribers to binge watch?

We will have a mix of both episodic as well as all at one go. We have content starting from 7 minutes and going up to 22 minutes per episodes, so it's a combination of all.

So, all the originals will be behind the paywall; will you make them available for free after a certain period?

Zee5 is a freemium app; we will have all the originals that we have invested on, behind the paywall. We do not have any plans of making anything available for free at this stage... I genuinely believe that Indian consumers will pay for great content. We know it's an absolutely movie-crazy country; people are spending Rs 150 in the theatre. The free side will have all catch-up TV content.

What are your plans for the advertising side of the app? Do you see enough revenue coming in?

At this stage, we are seeing revenues coming in from both streams; practically it is 50-50 so far. We are also evaluating brand-integration options too; there are a few concepts in the pipeline...

We normally see a channel treat its shows like sub-brands and promote them; you are releasing 20 shows in one go, how do you plan to market them?

It is very much the same here too. Every content has its merit, 'Karenjit Kaur' cannot be marketed around 15 other shows. Every single show will have an individual marketing plan and there will be no mass marketing. Social and digital will be a key tool for communication; we will use influencers who will work with us.

What is the marketing mandate?

The entire marketing initiative is to ensure that viewers discover the content we have on our platform. We firmly believe that once people discover it, they will love it.

After they are on the platform, how much attention are you paying on algorithms and recommendations?

Recommendation is a powerful advantage of digital it helps consumers discover great content that is available on the platform which they otherwise could have missed. It also helps you discover content which is not commercially popular, what we call the tail end and yet it could be delightful content.

Throughout the conference the messaging has been - watching it on a handheld device - why are you not talking about OTT on large screens?

I am very clear that the slightly evolved urban audience is moving toward watching on the large screen. That's a trend globally; in the US and other parts, we see everyone watching OTT content on the large screen. We are still catching up in terms of infrastructure, I am sure India too will move in that direction. But today, if you ask me to make a confident comment about any random individual on the road, I will say he has got a mobile phone. Therefore it's my punt that they will watch it on their handheld device.

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