Anirban Roy Choudhury

"Will spend up to Rs 10 crore per show to change Ullu's 'edgy' image": Vibhu Agarwal

The video-on-demand platform's founder and CEO says he is planning to neutralise the content offering.

Charging subscribers for 'edgy' and 'sleazy' content. This is what the video-on-demand (VOD) platform Ullu is often accused of. The platform streams 18+ content and targets audiences on the back of shows that are often criticised as 'obscene'.

Launched in December 2018, Ullu's founder and CEO, film producer Vibhu Agarwal, says that there is nothing wrong in what it does and argues that it is not the only one.

The app has more than 10 million downloads on Google's Play Store and operates on a subscription-based model. Unlike other OTT platforms, instead of commissioning producers to make content, Ullu follows a partnership model. The producers associate with the platform on a revenue sharing model. 

The Coronavirus lockdown, Agarwal says, has come as a boon for the platform and it is now edging towards breaking even by the end of this financial year, or early next fiscal. Though he is not worried about Ullu's 'edgy' image, Agarwal says he is planning to neutralise the content offering. 

Along with video content, Ullu has launched a music streaming service and will soon roll out its private label under which it would sell underwear and night suits. Agarwal shares his plans with afaqs!.

Edited excerpts:

When you say the lockdown came as a boon, what do you mean?

Much like other OTT platforms, we have also seen a significant surge in our footfall. More people are aware about Ullu and the content it offers. As per our analysis so far, there has been a 200 per cent growth in our footfall.

Did this growth translate to paid subscription?

Normally, if 100 people download the app, 40 subscribe to it. The conversation has always been at the range of 40-45 per cent. However, during lockdown, it went up to 75 per cent. So, we started seeing 75 subscriptions per 100 downloads.

Where did they (the subscribers) come from, and how much were they paying?

Eighty per cent of our subscribers are from India. Of the remaining 20 per cent, Gulf countries are the biggest, followed by Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Latin America and Canada. Our international subscription base is growing at a good rate.

In India, most of our subscribers come from Hindi speaking markets like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. Recently, we have seen a surge in consumption in West Bengal.

We have the cheapest subscription plans in the market, starting with Rs 36 for a week, Rs 99 for a month, Rs 144 for six months, and Rs 198 for a year.

Why are you seeing a surge in West Bengal? Do you have regional expansion plans?

As a promise to our subscribers, we release a new piece of content every Friday. It is a mix of web-series, which has four episodes, short movies and feature-length films. We have a good enough bank to keep releasing a new show every Friday till March 2021.

Each piece of content that we release is dubbed in eight different Indian languages, including Bengali and Bhojpuri. Due to this, we may have seen a surge in West Bengal. We have signed a deal with one of the biggest producers in the Bengali market and by next month (October), we will have original Bengali content. We will do the same in Telugu too.

The content you stream is often criticised as 'sleazy' and 'edgy'. If a restriction is imposed, do you fear that nobody will subscribe to Ullu anymore?

A blanket restriction on any form of content is counterproductive. We make sure that we are informing our viewers about the nature of the content. After that, it should be left to the viewers to decide what they want to watch... Also, remember that people are paying to watch content. So, they are making a mature decision.

So, you feel this criticism is unfair?

The same content, in fact, more explicit content, with more intimate scenes are on international platforms, which are streaming content in India. People are paying five times more than what they are paying us and watching that content. Now, maybe because of their brand value, they are not looked that way…

But they have a mix of all kinds of content, while on Ullu, it is mostly 'edgy'...

It is a choice that we provide to the customers. However, we are launching Ullu 2.0 and will have a premium offering. We have signed deals with mainstream filmmakers and actors, and will spend between Rs 5 crore and Rs 10 crore per show to change the edgy image. Those shows will be 'clean' and so, we will then also have a good mix of content offering.

You said you will break even by the end of this financial year, or early next fiscal. Where do you invest the most?

Tech, marketing and content are the three areas where we spend the most. We are revamping our app and will launch a new avatar. There will have an uncensored version and a censored one. The same content will have two different streams, one will be raw, while the censored version will have chopped scenes and disclaimers. We will also have a premium offering in the new avatar and the subscribers will have to pay an incremental fee to access that.

Tell us about your expansion plans.

We have already launched a music streaming service. We will launch Ullu Live, where the subscribers can chat with the stars. Then, we are launching our merchandising business under the private label Ullu. We will have undergarments, sleepwear and slippers on a different e-commerce platform, which is a natural extension of the content we produce.