Anirban Roy Choudhury

"There is no technological way to ensure ads are 100% child-safe:" Saugato Bhowmik, VOOT Kids

Viacom18, a joint venture operation between global media giant Viacom and TV18, launched VOOT Kids, an over-the-top streaming platform targetted at kids. It is an ad-free subscription-driven extension of Viacom18’s digital venture — VOOT, which, as shared by the organisation, has 80 million monthly active users. Sudhanshu Vats, group chief executive officer, Viacom18, while announcing the launch of the new platform mentioned that 15 per cent of the total viewership on VOOT was on kids' content that was earlier streaming on the platform.

Viacom18 is a leading broadcaster of kids' content in India. Its flagship kids' channel, Nickelodeon has held the top position in BARC India ratings since 2015. The network has now moved all kids' content to the newly launched platform and is redirecting users from VOOT as well. The new platform is targetted at two- to eight-year-olds and is priced at Rs 99 per month and Rs 799 per year. Business head - VOOT Kids, Saugato Bhowmik will lead the business.

In 2013, Bhowmik joined Viacom18 from HUL, where he spent almost a decade working on oral care, fabric cleaning, personal care and other businesses. In an interaction with afaqs!, Bhowmik shared his thoughts behind VOOT Kids, launching it as an ad-free platform, content and marketing strategies and more. Here are the edited excerpts:

What led to the launch of VOOT Kids as a separate OTT service?

We have a long and successful history of kids entertainment and have established leadership five years ago. We thought we needed to solve larger problems and go beyond just the entertainment requirements. The kids’ section on VOOT app was getting such traction that we realised that the kids are watching a lot of content online. We went out and did our research where we found out that parents are constantly curating activities, books, etc. outside of curriculum and sports to drive the holistic development of their child. That is what got us thinking — Can we be a part of this holistic development journey and not just the entertainment need? That’s how the idea was born.

Is it a mix of education and entertainment?

We are not here to be in the ed-tech (Byju's, Unacademy, Vedantu and likes) space or give curricular school education. We want VOOT Kids to seamlessly combine entertainment and fun-learn. That is why we got together the widest and largest collection of not just videos and toons but enhanced e-books, audio stories, gamified multiple-choice quizzes — a total of 20,000 pieces of content. All of that sitting on top of a very strong parental control set of features where the parent can see what the child is doing. They can also track the progress, set screen time limits, etc.

Numerous brands are entering the ed-tech space to plug curriculum gaps. But there are hardly any brands guiding parents who buy non-curricular books, puzzles, board games and so many other things they keep investing in. We wanted to be that brand while being true to our DNA — entertainment.

How did you decide on the pricing?

We have done research with external partners and found that parents, especially in urban households, spend close to Rs 15,000 per annum on extra-curricular items, which is more than Rs 1000 a month. That is a fair amount of money which is not going towards curriculum or sports. The question we asked ourselves was, ‘Can we address this market and provide value while selling it at a reasonable price?’ That is how the pricing came to Rs 99 per month and Rs 799 per annum.

Who do you think will buy it, is it an urban offering?

Our target group is kids between the ages of two-eight, across India. We solve kids' problems, an affluent child living in Mumbai or not so affluent child somewhere in Raipur, all have a similar need and we are not discriminating.

In terms of promoting the new product, have you identified key markets?

We are doing an all-India launch. We went live with a soft launch three months back and got people to try the product. We offered a free trial and then they became a paid customer. In fact, we have a conversion rate of 50 per cent.

What is the marketing plan, how do you plan to communicate the new launch?

Through an integrated marketing campaign that includes TV, digital platforms including our own, print, on-ground and a lot of influencers-led outreach programmes. Parent influencers, too, who can communicate with the school community will be roped in, because though the product consumers will be kids, the communication will be aimed at parents and adults.

Our philosophy is — Making screen time meaningful like never before. The present day narrative propagates that screen time is junk time, bad time — we want to change that. You know longer need to be afraid of giving the phone to your child, this is what we will communicate. Our sign-off line is Masti mein Acchai.

What is your content strategy?

On the video space, we have the largest library of curated kids’ animation content from across the world and India with partnerships across the board. Outside of Disney, all the top content studios are partnering with us. We are not restricting ourselves to only Viacom or Nickelodeon, therefore, we will acquire a lot of content, Nick already creates a lot of home-grown content. We will continue to create more audio stories as VOOT Kids originals.

Did you decide to go SVOD because there aren’t enough advertisers willing to spend on kids’ content?

No! There are advertisers and money, that is not the issue. The problem is technological. If you want to setup a safe, secure environment for a child then, today, there is no technological way to ensure 100 per cent child-safe-ads. It is just impossible. You cannot do that level of content monitoring because ads are served by programmed ad-serving engines. You can put filters and restriction, yet sometimes something will go wrong and you will end up serving something inappropriate to the children. As business and brand, we decided we would not do that.

Can you explain why you think it's impossible to have a child-safe AVOD environment?

If your business model is based on advertising then you will want to get as many advertisers as possible. Business pressures will dictate and you will be unable to take certain ads off. For example, let’s say we have decided we will not stream any condom ads on the platform but can you say no deodorants, no lifestyle brands… then what kind of advertising money are you left with. How will you build a great business and a product that will make consumers happy if you do not have the money to fund it?

As a former FMCG-marketer could you shed some light on how an OTT product launch is different from a new variant of Pepsodent (a brand he worked on)?

The main difference is — the new variant of Pepsodent is not really new as it is an existing brand, so there is already residual equity there, while here we are creating a new category altogether. There is nothing like this in the market that seamlessly combines fun and learning. We cannot even be compared with any other OTT services, they do not have what we do. As a result, my marketing task is to communicate that there is a whole new ability to influence fun learning for your child. What you didn’t know exists now exists, so try it!

The complexity of building this product is at a very different magnitude compared to building an FMCG product. FMCG is a stable industry that has defined itself over 100 years. On the contrary, OTT is a new and far more volatile industry. But fundamentally, as a marketer, the job remains the same — understand the consumer better than the consumer understands himself/herself.

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