Anirban Roy Choudhury

"We need third-party measurement body to truly unlock the advertising VOD play": Akash Banerji

In an interview with afaqs! Akash Banerji talks about the AVOD space and the challenges posed by the lack of a third-party measurement body.

By 2021, advertisers are going to spend Rs 10,500 crore on digital video in India (EY estimate) which is going to shoot up from Rs 5,000 crore in 2018. Unlike search and social media, where Google and Facebook dominate about 86 per cent of the total spend, digital video is a much more level playing field. Come April, as the Indian Premier League kicks off, Hotstar will start claiming it has more monthly active users than Google's YouTube. Last year, Hotstar (now owned by Disney) announced that it had crossed the 300 million monthly active user mark while YouTube's CEO who was in India at that time said that she had 275 million MAU. There is Times Internet's MX Player which claims 175 MAU tuning on the local video player that it earlier was, however, it is still in the process of converting the video players to streamers. Recently, Viacom18's VOOT claimed it crossed the 100 million MAU mark.

While there is a lot of encouragement and action in the advertising video-on-demand space, Akash Banerji, Head - AVOD Business, VOOT believes that the unavailability of a third-party measurement body is stopping it from attaining the next level. The Indian media, advertising and marketing ecosystem tried through industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, to come up with a measurement body for digital - EKAM but it is yet to materialise. If reports are to be believed, then many players, most belonging to the non-broadcasters denied being a part of it. Banerjee believes it is worth giving it another try for the industry to grow.

In an interview with afaqs! Banerji talks about the AVOD space and the challenges posed by the lack of a third-party measurement body.

Edited Excerpts:

There is so much data available already in digital, what do you think is missing due to unavailability of a third-party measurement body?

What we have today as measurement, is a measurement done by individual platforms. Advertisers will run their ads and I will share the dashboard reports. The story around what is my user base, how many video views and what is the watch time - those are all data points which are now being quoted by the respective platforms. There is no authority or a body which actually checks and verifies accuracy and then publishes some kind of a report based on that. As an advertiser, if I am spending on Bigg Boss, I would want to know how many of my audiences saw my ad on TV and on VOOT. Let us take another example. If I ran my ad on multiple platforms, how many of those audiences were duplicated and what was the number of unique viewers.

What do you think will change with the inclusion of a third-party measurement body?

If today, some platform is claiming 300 million monthly active users basis which I am going to create a campaign plan, there must be a third-party audit to find out if the claim is true. If someone is claiming that a particular piece of content is driving a lot of watch time, what is it that I have to verify that. As an advertiser, I have no option but to trust the platform. What BARC has managed to do is create some kind of semblance of sanity, and what we are looking for at this stage is some semblance of sanity with respect to third party measurement, which I think will give that much more confidence and comfort to advertisers for them to put money where the mouth is.

"Today there are few advertisers for whom spending on digital is checking a box and that is it."
Akash Banerji

Do you think new advertisers will come into the AVOD system if you get a third-party measurement body?

It is not about new advertisers coming into the system. Instead, existing advertisers will start spending more. Look, all the big categories - FMCG, Automobile, BFSI, e-commerce, they are already spending on digital. It is about how much more and how often they are going to spend. That is where we need a third-party measurement body to truly unlock the advertising video on demand play. Today there are few advertisers for whom spending on digital is checking a box and that is it. Tomorrow, this could be about - I exactly know that this content does this much on this platform. If I have to create a reach-frequency plan, I can choose Bigg Boss from VOOT, KBC from SonyLIV and IPL from Hotstar and then make a campaign around it. Today what happens is - this much inventory, this much money on standalone platforms and then a calculation of what we got from individual platforms and not a cohesive number.

What are the kinds of advertising you see today in the AVOD space?

Primarily there are two facets - one is inventory revenue and the other is sponsorships. Largely it is a play of these many audiences at this much CPM (Cost Per Mille) for these many impressions. What is the total revenue? Sponsorship as in the world of TV is an association with a certain platform. There are platforms with a huge catalogue of content but no marquee shows. For such platforms it's mostly inventory driven advertising. Then there are platforms with a few marquee content pieces but not a massive catalogue, there the advertisers want to associate with the content and thus it's more sponsorship. If we take a platform like VOOT for example, for all our top-end reality shows (Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi) we get sponsorship revenues while our drama and fiction shows, which get us daily viewership in large numbers generate revenue through programmatic. About 40 to 45 per cent of the advertising revenue is driven by programmatic today. Apart from those, there is a VOOT studio which is branded content.

What about performance? Do you think, a platform like VOOT can sell for the advertisers and thus a cost per sale model can come into play?

I think it is still some time away for the OTT video business. Because we are a video platform, the ads are displayed in a manner of driving top of the funnel metrics. What we drive is the consideration and salience as opposed to the final purchase. Having said so, we have some native advertising formats which are clickable and once you click on it, you will move to the advertiser side. However, that is not the main story at least for some time.

You said you crossed the 100 million monthly active user mark, do you fear the number will drop post Bigg Boss?

This is like asking Hotstar - do you worry that your numbers will drop after IPL. There is no point worrying about things that are beyond our control. The 100 million monthly active user base that we have is not on the back of Bigg Boss Hindi only but Bigg Boss Kannada, Khatron Ke Khiladi, Naagin, KBC Tamil and all the other shows that we have. What we worry about is how to retain them and how we can monetise the audience on the platform - that is what keeps me awake. After Bigg Boss we have Khatron Ke Khiladi, then we will have Roadies. Something will go away and something new will come and even if after Bigg Boss, the numbers drop, I need to ensure that whether with a 50 million user-base or with a 100 million user base, I am getting more than what I am spending to service that user base.

Viacom18 took the kids away from VOOT to an SVOD platform VOOT Kids, how much did that impact your revenue and consumption?

Not so much from a revenue stand point, but we did see an attrition of users. For kids, it was never their phone, it was always on the parents' phone and therefore as an app., I still continue to have that real estate on the mother's and father's phone. They continue to watch the dramas that are there on the platform.

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