Ananya Pathak
Interviews

"We want to be an ally to parents": voot kids' Saugato Bhowmik

A conversation with voot kids' business head Saugato Bhowmik.

Most of us have grown up with limited entertainment options as children, with television being one of the major sources. It was much later that access to smartphones and OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and voot kids became much smoother.

Speaking of kids' entertainment, those in the field of content creation acknowledge that grabbing the attention of a young mind is far more complicated than getting an adult's attention. It's even harder for a parent to decide which content is acceptable for the child and if it is worth paying for. Also, in a sea of available video options, where do audio content and games stand?

"We want to be an ally to parents":  voot kids' Saugato Bhowmik

Saugato Bhowmik, business head, voot kids, answered some of these questions at afaqs!' vdonxt asia 2020, in an interview with Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard. The fourth edition of the annual event was organised in Mumbai on January 29, 2020.

Edited excerpts.

How did the idea of voot kids come up?

It seems deceptively easy to understand kids, their entertainment and their fun-learn needs. What we have understood over the years in the kids' space is that it takes a lot of different approaches to actually serve that audience well.

There are three different contexts as to why voot kids came into being - the consumer context, the industry context and our own organisational context.

A lot of our research showed that parents are willing to pay for apps or material on the internet that leads to some kind of mental, social and intellectual development of the child. It could be a game, a hobby, an activity, fine motor skills, self-learning solutions, anything. Most parents in the country are spending over Rs 15,000 annually in different ways for these activities. We understood that there is constant pressure on parents to curate or decide what content the child should consume. The other narrative that bakes in their head is screen time - a necessary evil that one needs to live with. As the child needs his/her share of junk food, they need their own screens as well. That screen then gets abused as a form of gratification. This was the context we were grappling with.

From the industry point of view, we have catered the audience with our linear kids' network. We realised that despite such great shows and animation, the industry still does not reward it in the right way in terms of advertising revenue simply because it isn't clear if it is the child or the decision-maker of the house consuming the show.

In the context of our organisation, we have been in the space for some time and we understand kids. We decided that the digital streaming space is where we could do a lot more to solve the real problem. Can we go well beyond just entertainment? Can we be an ally to parents in their curation job of 'fun to learn'? Can we make the screen more meaningful for the child as well as the parent? That's the narrative from where voot kids took off...

How was the platform curated then?

We identified multiple formats that most parents look for. We found they search for books, games, quizzes, and ways for a child to absorb a story through the audio medium. We put together all this information and thought about how we could bring formats of video animation with fun-learn content embedded in it. We brought together books which are more fun, audio stories across genres to unleash the imagination of a child, games and quizzes - by playing these, the child could earn points and score badges. As a part of these activities, they can also pick up certain skill domains, on one platform. We decided the business model of the platform won't depend on advertisers simply because our only challenge would be to deliver value to a parent who would start seeing a tangible improvement in a child's skills, vocabulary, understanding of numbers, art, and habits. Indian parents are more than happy to pay for all these deliverables and we definitely aren't charging them a lot.

How much do you charge?

At an annual level, the subscription for voot kids costs Rs 800. There is a monthly price option as well – Rs 99/ month.

When did you launch?

We opened up the product on the app stores in June 2019. We started refining the product based on user experience and feedback that we were receiving. When we felt extremely confident to launch, we went live on November 14, 2019 which looked like an apt day in the context of the TG.

The kids' genre is a huge one in terms of viewership, isn't it?

From a viewership share, it's seven per cent of the total and from the revenue point of view, it sits at one per cent.

What kind of consumption pattern are you seeing?

The great thing about a digital platform is that it democratises the content at the user's end. It basically leaves the user free to choose and basis age appropriateness, recommendations and usage pattern, the app automatically serves user-specific content. So, what you see very differently from TV is that a lot of fun-learn and preschool content, which is not necessarily high viewership on TV, is consumed on our platform. What is even more encouraging than the video format is that one out of every two users is coming on the platform for quizzes. We had initially believed that video would be one of the sole and predominantly consumed formats on the platform.

The average number of quizzes taken per user is more than 33. That is huge given we are not even promoting it, they are discovering it on the platform. Other than that, read-aloud books have started seeing increasing adoption. Every passing week we see our numbers and time spent on books moving up. It proves the case that books are a very powerful and viable format in the digital space, it just has to be treated well.

What age groups are we talking about here?

The age group that we are targeting is a combination of two age clusters – one is the pre-school three to six year olds and the other is the early primary school six to eight year olds. Their needs, content consumption, reading ability, quizzing ability, motor skills, are all different. Moving ahead, we intend to serve our content to much narrower definitions of age clusters – three to four year olds will have different content versus four to five year olds and so on.

Are you partnering with educationists and curriculum designers?

We went through an extremely rigorous process during the development stage and pre-launch of consulting with the Early Childhood Association (ECA) that governs pre and early education and development across different schooling bodies. They did a six-month-long audit on the app and we are proud to share that we are the first and only kids' digital service that has been ECA accredited. The only reason that happened was because we co-authored and co-created the voot kids product along with them and because we removed the content that did not meet their criteria.

We didn't just work with ECA but bodies like it as well, who helped us understand learning pedagogy, learning sub-objectives and objectives in early and pre-school for us to define our categorisation of our quizzes. We will continue to expand our partnership with more bodies.

I would also caveat that voot kids is not getting into solving K12 educational needs. We are an ally for parents for fun-learn needs, so that when parents stress over what activities the child should do outside of school and sports, voot kids should be their go-to destination.