The popularity of online videos continues to climb as a generation of youngsters comfortable with moving images takes to the internet, especially the mobile screen. What does it mean to marketers, their agencies and publishers?
What would you turn to the internet for? To be told that Barrack Obama shall continue to be the US President for another four years? To look up a new recipe? To check movie timings? Or to watch movies and videos online?
As the internet gets more audio-visual, online videos have grown by leaps and bounds. So, how are marketers viewing this phenomenon?
Videos are all over the web - whether it is in the form of ads, user-generated content, movies, music videos or television programmes. And it is being aggressively consumed by users worldwide.
In India, 65 million internet users (in office and homes) spend one in four online minutes on social networking (according to comScore). Add the numbers of those who surf from internet cafes, mobile phones and PDAs (comScore only tracks users above a particular age, and not those who surf from public access points) and the numbers go up to 125 million.
As the audio-visual format gains ground, content houses keep serving out video content across various categories. Advertisers are there targeting those users online as banner and text ads are giving way to video ads gradually.
Consider, MTV India for example. The channel is a leading youth brand boasting of a dedicated and large following and its content across various shows can be a case in point.
Its YouTube channel, gives MTV 69,205 subscribers and 18.9 million video views. The recently-launched Royal Stag Mega Music MTV Unplugged Season 2, with its first episode featuring AR Rahman, crossed 6,50,000 views in the first 48 hours. "The fact that people want to consume content on demand or that they will want to consume content on the go are parts of everyday life that content creators have to accept and live with," states Swamy.
There are social networking sites, video hosting platforms and multiple devices at the user's disposal. Infrastructure is getting better as connectivity moves into wireless and mobile modes. According to comScore's Media Metrix (a product that tracks users' consumption habits), as of June 2012, the average Indian user spends 25.2 per cent of his or her online minutes on social networking (this does not include visits from public access computers, such as internet cafes, mobile phones or PDAs), 10 per cent on entertainment, 8.8 per cent on portals, 8.1 per cent on e-mails, 3.2 per cent on search and navigation and 3 per cent on news and information.
Though YouTube is the leading online video destination, there are various other platforms such as Vimeo, DailyMotion, Metacafe, as well as, video channels by portals such as Yahoo! and Microsoft. Yahoo! hosts original content from various content houses across categories such as lifestyle, sports, news and more on Yahoo! Video.
Late last month, Yahoo! and MediaCom launched a custom branded content and entertainment site for Procter & Gamble called Style Factor. While not a video channel per se, Style Factor banks a lot on videos.
Another player looking at videos seriously is Times Internet that recently announced the launch of BoxTV.com, a premium video service offering entertainment content such as movies, TV shows, short films and more. At this point, a majority of the consumption is around short-form content mostly clips and shorter videos. "Users will gravitate to watching more long-form content. They will want more 'lean-back' experiences in forms of TV-connected devices and other emerging technologies that provide more convenient options to view content," explains Pandurang Nayak, business head, BoxTV.com.
Though exact figures for the rise in consumption of online videos in India are hard to come by, industry estimates say that 45 million out of an estimated 65 million - in other words, 68 per cent - watch online videos.
Nayak says there have been more than 1,00,000 invite requests since February with 70 per cent coming in the last two months. BoxTV sends invites in batches to users who have registered online. "A new feature that allows existing users to invite friends and acquaintances to BoxTV, has pushed interaction from current users up by 40 per cent," says Nayak.
A look at the top 10 YouTube channels in India speaks volumes of the consumption habits of the user. In this entertainment loving country, it is little surprise when one finds that all of them belong to the entertainment category.
Rajjat A Barjatya, director, Rajshri Media, is a firm digital believer. "We are already in the midst of an online video revolution. It is only set to grow and envelope your life completely," he says. Barjatya claims that Rajshri Media produces 100 plus minutes of original content in-house on a daily basis for digital platforms.
Hiren Gada, director, Shemaroo Entertainment, is another subscriber to this view. "We are present on every platform depending on the potential. We began an internal initiative called 'Go Digital', more than two years back, and have been investing in various digital rights heavily over the last few years," says Gada.
Most experts when asked on roadblocks, when it comes to this rising trend, cite the lack of content. "People have not started thinking of online content. Of course, there are enough people who have done it and are doing it but they are in minority. They should be celebrated. We think of YouTube and call it content but that is not how it works," opines Shubho Sengupta, independent digital consultant.
Rajshri's Barjatya, however, is quick to differ. "There is a lot of made-for-internet and made-for-mobile content we provide," he says. Much like most YouTube channels, both Rajshri and Shemaroo have various verticals that include music, education, movies, regional content and more, hosting videos with relevant content.
Barjatya reveals that the company is about to launch a food channel and another on fiction. He is firmly of the opinion that it is very important to 'think digital' and not just repurpose content. "I get pitches for a lot of concepts for digital shows but they are, basically, rehashes of TV. Many people come to me with concepts that probably are rejected by TV channels and they think they can make it for web. I say 'no'," he remarks.
There are many reasons for thinking differently when it comes to online. Firstly, attention spans are very short. The viewer has the power of the mouse where he can interact with the content. "On TV, I am watching whatever is pushed at me. TV is not the idiot box. The viewer is the idiot who is just watching whatever is being offered. On the internet, the user is watching the video because he chooses to watch it," says Barjatya.
Suranjana Ghosh, head, marketing, CNBC-TV18, says, "With the playout of the 3G launch, myriad technological advances and increasing reach of broadband, online video consumption is only going to rise on various digital platforms."
CNBC-TV18 hosts videos on its YouTube channel, while its partner website Moneycontrol.com hosts short clips of the episodes and channel content, as well as, certain exclusive videos for the online community through MyTV. With everyone being so bullish on online videos, is the money good enough?
The monetisation model in India is, still, based on advertising. Unlike the West, the subscription model on video-sharing platforms is yet to find takers in India. And, there is very little innovation in online ads. Advertisers tend to merely reproduce their TV commercials online.
There are others who cry for innovation. Vivek Ballabh, senior vice-president, digital media, Digitas India, says, "Advertisers need to realise that online videos must be viewed as a separate channel for advertising. It must be realised that it could prove to be a much more powerful medium."
Channels are pushing popular TV shows such as Kaun Banega Crorepati, Indian Idol, MTV Roadies and live sports events, particularly cricket, and more online. There are also unique models that can add to the revenue. Mobile TV services company Zenga TV, for instance, collects data charges from mobile operators. While the consumer watches the content free, the operator shares part of the data revenue that it earns.
"There are two parts of it. One is that brands will not do anything unless there is demand or unless someone hits them on their heads. People who are watching videos on YouTube are very happy to watch TV on YouTube. They have not really moved to digital content. We cannot just blame the consumer and leave it at that. Where is the content leadership by brands?" asks Sengupta.
BoxTV is an interesting example. While it is available on a 'freemium' model with a portion of the content free, ad-supported for consumers to watch with a simple registration, a larger portion of the content is available behind a pay-wall with a monthly subscription model. Currently, the service in India is priced at Rs 199 per month.
Ditto TV from the Zee stable is another indicator about the future. Although it has only 35,000 paid users, Zee is upbeat about its digital video plans. It is planning video on demand soon. Also coming is Catch-up TV, which allows viewers to catch up with TV shows they have missed.
Everyone is excitedly waiting and watching for the next step of evolution. "From the advertiser's point of view, it has always been very clear. If the users are there, the advertisers will come. From a publisher's point of view, it becomes critical to create enough content to attract viewers thereby advertisers," says Singh.
Content houses and advertisers believe and hope the market to mature much more, and quickly too. "Things will only get better. With this happening, I only hope more advertisers come on board. Just like how "XYZ presents Bade Acche Lagte Hai", you might have "XYZ presents Shammi Kapoor Unplugged," says Barjatya. For now, all eyes are on the online content that is playing now. And that view is not bad at all.
(Based on additional interviews with Asim Warsi, Samsung Mobile; Kanika Mathur, Digitas India; Shabir Momim, Zenga TV and Unny Radhakrishnan, South Asia, Maxus).