"This is no experiment; it's serious business": Hoichoi co-founder Vishnu Mohta

By Anirban Roy Choudhury, afaqs!, Mumbai | October 17, 2017
We spoke to Mohta about his month-old Bengali OTT platform, a venture he is confident will break even within four years.
Vishnu Mohta

Vishnu Mohta

Executive director - SVF and co-founder, Hoichoi

One of the largest integrated production houses in East India Shree Venkatesh Films, popularly known as SVF, has recently announced the launch of its Over-The-Top (OTT) streaming service 'Hoichoi'. So far, SVF has produced over 100 Bengali movies which include five national award-winning titles, 'Memories in March', 'Chokher Bali', 'Raincoat', 'Chitrangada' and 'Chotoder Chobi' . The production house also produces TV shows and has over 10,000 episodes under its belt, apart from creating and producing, SVF distributes Hollywood and Bollywood movies in the entire Eastern Region.

The Bengali broadcast market comprises of 'Star Jalsha' from Star India, 'Colors Bangla' from Viacom18 and Zee Bangla from ZEEL among others. About 80-90 feature films hit theatres each year, of which around 10-12 are produced by SVF alone.

We spoke to Vishnu Mohta, executive director - SVF and co-founder Hoichoi, to understand what the venture aims to achieve...

Edited Excerpts

Shree Venkatesh Films is already a big film and television production company in the Bengali industry, why did the organisation decide to invest and develop an OTT platform?

We wanted to combine all our entertainment content and bring it onto one platform and that was the first reason why we decided to launch it. A platform makes the discovery of content easier for the consumer. We already produce films and TV shows and it is a natural transition for us to start creating content for the digital platform, so we thought why not create content for a platform that we own. Also, at this stage, if you see, there's not much original content available on digital for the Bengali audience, which is a large enough base to run a platform.

Okay... but we read every day that the next set of digital users will come from regional India accessing regional content and that will spur ad spends in the regional markets; why did you decide to be subscription driven instead of pitching for ad dollars?

We see SVF as a premium content creator, we do not create content to make it viral or with a particular number of views in mind. Hoichoi is the platform that will have all the premium content we create, we as a company do not like ads and we consider it to be an intervention which impacts user experience. So our point was why have premium content and ruin the experience by putting ads, instead, why not charge for content. What also encouraged us to take that step is the fact that today data cost is reasonable unlike two years ago. Today consumers are less conscious about data and that is a great move forward for which we are seeing a lot of people now willing to pay for premium content. We are targeting the Bengali audience in India, Bangladesh and Rest of the World, which is a large enough base to run a subscription-based video on demand platform.

SVF's films are available on Hotstar and Prime Video; now that you have your own platform what happens to the licensing deal with others? Will you sign them all off to have exclusivity?

We are lucky to have amazing partners in Amazon and Hotstar and all our deals with them will remain the way they are. We didn't start Hoichoi to take our content off from other platforms, that's not the business model we are planning to build. SVF will continue to make shows for national broadcasters, Star, Zee, Sony etc. The original content that we create for Hoichoi won't be available anywhere else other than Hoichoi.

So since you will continue to do other things and have your movies run on other digital platforms, is Hoichoi an alternative add-on for the parent brand?

We want to establish Hoichoi as a brand which meets the consumer's need to access quality content in the digital space. In ten years, Hoichoi will be as big a brand as SVF. This is not an experiment that we are trying our hands in; this is a serious business move and it is here to stay.

You are charging Rs 399 for 12 months, Rs 249 for six months and Rs 149 for three, how did you decide on your pricing? Did you do a market analysis to see who is charging what?

Yes, we looked at what others are charging and we found everyone has different price points and there is no established price point in the ecosystem. What we did was interact with our existing consumers in various ways to find a price point that won't pinch them and that's how we decided.

Price comparison between various paid VOD platforms operating in India Price comparison between various paid VOD platforms operating in India

What about the international pricing?

The International (excluding Bangladesh) audience is well equipped with the phenomenon of online content consumption and paying for content. The pricing is $8.99 per month and $79.99 per year. In the next 15 days to a month, we will be available on Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Firestick and other mirroring devices as we feel we will have more consumption on big screens.

Are you spending to get a consumer download for your platform? What is your marketing strategy? I don't see any brand ambassadors asking me to download the app...

We are not spending any money for customer acquisition. We believe advertising today should be disruptive and not be a common way of customer acquisition online; it's more about brand building today. So we are using our various touch points to generate awareness about the platform. We recently did a small integration in our latest theatrical release (Bolo Dugga Maiki). I believe the biggest marketing tool for a platform like Hoichoi is the content we create. A trailer will get more people on the platform than a TVC with a brand ambassador. And when we already have all the biggest stars of Bengal in our content, why do we need a brand ambassador marketing the platform, they are all our brand ambassadors.

You have quality movies pitted right against your original web-series; is it a challenge to match the production quality?

Ok, so the originals we have already done and the ones we will do in the future will be a mix of what we do on TV and in the movies. It will be of film quality, equipment, actors everything and the format will be of an episodic TV show. This is how Originals evolved globally and we will also follow the same trend.

In terms of cost, will a minute of a Hoichoi original cost as much as a movie or will it be more skewed towards the cost of a TV show?

The cost would be more similar to that of a film's production and there is a reason behind it. On TV, a show comes and goes, but here, the series will be there for eternity, like a movie. So a consumer who comes five years later and samples it should be able to connect with the content and it should be of that high a quality that it is relevant for a long period of time.

How are you managing your backend? Have you set up an internal tech team?

We wanted our focus to be on content and that's why we decided we would partner with a technology service provider who understands the OTT space well. Understanding the consumer and throwing the right content to him/her which he/she will interact with, is crucial and that's why we partnered with a New York-based company 'Viewlift' which has over 10 years experience in the OTT space. We do have a tech team internally which handles the CMS (Content Management System) and meta tagging.

You are a production house yourself; we see other producers producing content for Hoichoi too, so what is the model that you are following?

We have 10 shows already ready and only one of the 10 shows is produced by SVF, the rest are all produced by other content creators. We are here to run a business with quality content and it can come from anywhere. So, we follow a Television model, where we get pitches, discuss and decide which ones can be greenlit and then we commission the creator to create the show. We own the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Sometimes the in-house content team comes up with an idea which we get a producer to produce; that's the model we largely follow. We are here to collaborate and create quality content.

By when do you think you will recover your cost and start making money?

We will break even in about 3-4 years and I say that because I see a lot of opportunities in the space and we had a dream launch.

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