Anirban Roy ChoudhuryPublished: 19 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM
Interviews

"Copying western playbook won’t work for OTT in India": Gourav Rakshit, Viacom18

Viacom18’s digital video-on-demand service, VOOT is the only broadcaster-owned streaming platform in India without a paywall. Star India’s Hotstar, Sony’s SonyLIV and ZEE’s Zee5 have already rolled out their subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) offerings. VOOT gets most of its traffic through the catch-up television content that broadcasts on Viacom18’s television channels. In April, they announced the launch of ‘Voot Studios’, an agency-like service armed to create and communicate content for brands. It is also planning to make a move to the SVOD space soon.

Also Read: "If you're looking for the love of your life, you need to invest more into it": Gourav Rakshit, CEO, Shaadi.com

In May, former Shaadi.com chief executive officer, Gourav Rakshit joined Viacom18 as chief operating officer, Digital Ventures to lead the roll-out of SVOD services including VOOT Kids. In an interaction with afaqs!, Rakshit spoke about the role of VOOT Studios, the current OTT space and the future of its AVOD service once it rolls out the paywall.

Here are the edited excerpts:

From Shaadi.com to VOOT, how is the world different for you?

While Shaadi.com follows user-to-user approach, VOOT is us connecting directly with consumers. Another difference is that Shaadi.com has already become mainstream in India while OTT is still at an early phase in its life cycle. Having said that, it took us 10 years to take Shaadi.com in tier II and tier III cities. Whereas, with the launch of Reliance Jio and data becoming easily accessible, the shape of the market has changed and OTT has already set foot in those markets.

What are your observations of the OTT space in its current early stage?

People are still trying to figure out the right playbook for OTT in India. What has become clear is that copying western playbook is not going to work for OTT here. We have seen people in the OTT space invest a lot of money in shows which did not work that well. That compelled them to change their strategy and steer it to a more India-centric one. The models need to be invented locally as simply using the available western ones won't work. Also, with content creators rolling out their own services, the global model is evolving too. We will definitely be a mobile-first OTT market. Having said that, with fibre-to-the-home technology, there will be an increase in the penetration of Smart TVs.

With television, you know which show is being watched at a particular time and marketers can put their communication on that slot. What is AVOD’s selling point?

In terms of volumes, there is no way to ignore the reach of television nor should an advertiser do that. It continues to be the most powerful medium of reach in the country. OTT is trying to make inroads into that territory and to some extent, it is happening as large properties are available on OTT. In the foreseeable future, TV will continue to play a key role and as a marketer, you use the two mediums very differently. TV is used to broadcast a one-way message whereas the digital medium allows you to get into a dialogue with your customer and narrowcast your message at the right time to the right person. If you want everybody to tune in at a particular time, TV is still the best medium.

Last Updated June 2019
Last Updated June 2019

Then why should anybody spend on digital platforms like VOOT?

If I wanted to reach only females in the age-group between 28 to 35, VOOT is a phenomenal platform to narrowcast your message to that segment and eliminate any wastage. Now, it can be slightly more expensive but with zero wastage, it turns out to be more effective. Let us take another example, say a brand wants to reach out to girls of a certain age group at a frequency of six times. While it can be done on the digital platform, you cannot achieve that on television in spite of spending more. If you want to narrowcast your advertising, digital is the best option.

But why should advertisers trust digital data without a neutral third party measurement body?

The audit of raw impressions is available through multiple sources and I don't think the market will challenge it. You also need to consider the fact that as Viacom18, we have a lot at stake and so people do not challenge if the impressions were served. But was it served to a woman as the campaign required? That is where DAR (Nielsen's Digital Ad Ratings) comes into the picture and provides a third-party neutral audit. That gives people comfort and so far we have never had an issue.

With so many AVOD platforms in India, including YouTube, how do you differentiate VOOT?

The audience that we have and the nature of engagement we witness on VOOT are what differentiates it from the rest. We run the only digital daily soap in the country and have the highest female skew in the country. So, we have viewers returning each day to the platform and that itself lends us a particular positioning. If you have a new brand of shampoo or you are a BFSI brand looking for women to invest in your mutual funds, then VOOT is a good option as you know that the same person is coming again and again. And then, we have the ability to inject messages in our content too.

Viacom18 announced VOOT Studios earlier this year, how has the progress been?

VOOT Studios is our initiative to help advertisers tell their story. We believe advertisers have smaller stories that they want to communicate to their audience. VOOT Studios might not create the Ponds brand film but we will engage with viewers in a manner that the Ponds brand manager would like to engage with his audience. So, the internal team will work with the brand manager to create smaller stories which the marketers would like to tell their audience. VOOT Studios provides a full-stack solution which is creating the message, integrating it in the content and then running it on the platform.

Also Read: VOOT aims at 100 million monthly active users by March 2020; launches VOOT studio for advertisers

That’s the role of traditional agencies. Aren't you competing with them?

Not really. A traditional agency has a role in your brand film. If you are trying to create a brand film that you want to broadcast across all TV channels and other platforms, we are probably not the best option for you although we are happy to help. The traditional agencies go much deeper to create that film and do it for a living. But when you have a story to tell, which has a shorter shelf-life, we can play a big role. To give you an example, pet-food brand Pedigree wanted to tell a story on the occasion of Mother's Day. Now, in such cases, you cannot go to a traditional creative agency for such a short piece of communication. That is where we can play a role and this is something we want to be known for. Pedigree got what it wanted and now they work with us on a regular basis.

How is your pitch to brands different from traditional agencies and who are you targeting with VOOT Studios?

We don't go to brands and ask for their master brand-creative.There are a set of brands that do digital-only creatives. For them, I think, a traditional agency is wrong. Then there are brands who want to tell deeper stories to create an effect. So, I believe anyone who is aiming to dial up the likeability of their brands are the ones who will work with us.

Do you see VOOT Studios becoming a significant revenue driver or is it just a value-added-service to your existing clients?

I don't think it will be the largest revenue driver for us. We do break into new clients with it so, it is not always a value-added-service to our existing partners. VOOT Studios is not something we want to push down the client's throat. There will be a few selected partners that we will work closely with and that is enough for us.

There is a perception that VODs are failing to win advertisers’ trust and thus the CPMs (Cost Per Mile/Cost Per Thousand) are under stress… How do you plan to retain the rates?

That is not the reason why CPMs are under stress but because of huge supply. The amount of content available in the market and the number of eyeballs chasing that content is very huge and this natural economics makes it come under stress.

The ability to say a girl is a girl allows you to charge higher CPMs and hold on to it.

You are about to launch your paid offering soon... what happens to AVOD then?

Our numbers on AVOD will not get compromised and they will continue to grow. The content on AVOD will not suffer. We have been building this platform for a long time and it is not going to be a second class citizen for us. We have deep relationships with advertisers and we are not going to walk away. There is a huge opportunity in SVOD and so we are getting into it with a freemium platform where some content will be behind a paywall. For the foreseeable future, AVOD is going to be our bread, butter and jam.