Anirban Roy Choudhury

Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?

'Web series' is the latest channel being used by brands to woo youngsters. Ola, and Skybags, tell us why.

Youngsters today, especially the affluent metro youth often splurge on anything they take a fancy to. And, cashing in on this behaviourial pattern are brands which are focussed upon grabbing their attention.

The advent of the 'web series' in the digital arena has turned out to be one such medium through which the affluent metro youth is being targetted. Well, it all started with the online real-estate portal and online content creator The Viral Fever's (TVF) series 'Permanent Roommates'. There were no 30-second advertisements. Instead, the brand itself became a part of the story and remained a part of it as the story progressed.

Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
'Permanent Roommates' witnessed unprecedented numbers and ratings. For many, it was a bubble waiting to burst, but the release of its second season put all doubts to rest. Ola partnered with TVF for the second season of 'Permanent Roommates', and if sources are to be believed, the car rental company dished out close to one million dollars. TVF became a brand, 'Permanent Roommates' spread by word-of-mouth, and India turned out to be the Eldorado of the 'web series'.

And, that was the beginning. The country witnessed the release of one web series after another and with each was a brand telling a story. What drove brands more towards web series for targetting youth were platforms such as channel V and its decision to go 'only music'.

With all that happening around, curtain raiser TVF now aims to be the biggest destination for advertisers targetting the affluent youth. Its new offering 'Tripling' (a travel story involving siblings), has already raised many eyebrows even before the launch of the series. The trailer fetched close to a million views, another first in the Indian digital ecosystem. Tata Motors' hatchback car Tiago became TVF's partner in this road trip. Tata, too, is believed to have paid around one million dollars for the association.

"We are aspirational, cool, but not controversial. We have five million loyal viewers who will come to see our show and we give brands an opportunity to reach out to those viewers. There is certainly no other medium which can reach such audience organically with quality," says Arunabh Kumar, founder, The Viral Fever.

Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
'Tripling', too, is an initiative taken to do something different. "We have not seen a road trip story involving siblings before and that is what we are doing. We have made a mark when it comes to branded content, and I don't think there is any need to make a pitch about it," Kumar adds.

The impressive start of TVF got others into action and established media conglomerates with deep pockets took the web series route. SonyLIV, the online platform of Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India, launched a series called 'Love Bytes', and followed it up with 'Tanlines' and 'Lost & Found'.

While 'Tanlines' had 'Unlimited' as the presenting sponsor and Maruti Suzuki - Swift as the 'powered by sponsor', the associate sponsor slot was bought by Truly Madly, with Fogg Deo as party partner. As for Lost & Found, Skybags was the title sponsor and due to brand integration, enjoyed high visibility.

"For us, the objective behind getting into web series was to find out what a digital audience wants, which is different from the content already available. We are trying to figure out if there is a language which is a 'digital only' language that digital audiences want to speak," says Uday Sodhi, executive vice-president and head - digital business, Sony Pictures Networks India.

Sodhi feels advertisers love 'digital only' content as they can reach a target audience through it. "The interactive nature of the platform helps them do a lot more than just generate awareness about a product. And, it all happens at a very cost-effective price for the brands. Hence, they like associating with the concept," he asserts.

SonyLIV has witnessed serious evolution in terms of viewership as well as advertising since Love Bytes and Lost & Found. "Advertisers are learning how to handle digital, and hence, we see many associations happening. Given the nascent stage we are in, I think it's a great start for us," Sodhi opines.

The content, other than generating revenue also works as a marketing tool for the platform. "Promotion of the content automatically leads to the promotion of the platform. Unless it is a brand campaign, all our marketing initiatives reverberate around the content we create, as well as the ones we have," says Abhishek Joshi, head - marketing and analytics, digital business.

Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
Digital remains the most focussed medium, followed by radio and print. LIV's initial target is the affluent metro youth, aged between 18-24 years. "Digital demands a call-to-action marketing strategy. You cannot say 'watch on Monday, at 9 PM', but say 'watch now'," says Joshi.

Viacom18, too, took the digital route with original content. No platform before VOOT (Viacom18's video-on-demand platform) launched with original 'digital only' series in its library. The Soumik Sen directed 'Badman' was there on VOOT from day one.

"VOOT originals bring new users who, today, want to consume content that is hugely differentiated from the kind of content that they get on TV. We estimate this market to be between 5-10 million users, who want differentiated content, and the market is growing rapidly" says Gaurav Gandhi, chief operating officer - Viacom18 Digital Ventures.

"VOOT, today, is the only destination, which is investing so heavily in this space. In the first three months of the launch, we have already done five originals - the latest one being our biggest one - Shaadi Boys. Each offers a very different kind of content and audience mix -- Chinese Bhasad vs Badman vs Soadies vs Shaadi boys," says Gandhi, who feels this is a proposition which no one else can offer to advertisers at this stage.

The target audience of VOOT is between 18-35 years. Relativity and resonance are the two key elements that VOOT focusses on, says Monika Shergill, head - content, Viacom18 Digital Ventures. She adds, "Any story that speaks about changing India is a story that we would like to tell. There is a set of audience which is moving out of TV content and we want to grab them on digital. College, career, relationship and marriage are different phases of life, and we want to do stories around them. They can be drama or comedy, a mix of both, or any new innovation."

There is no clear scheduling strategy when it comes to the release of web series episodes. "Scheduling is an aspect which we are still figuring out. We are evaluating various options and with time, we will decide on something when we feel we are sure about it. At this stage, we are launching weekly and daily, and we have also done all episodes together to see how the reaction varies," Shergill adds.

Brands Speak

Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
Is 'web series' the new hot medium for brands to chase the youth?
Skybags, which associated with LIV's 'Lost & Found', got into the discussion at the planning stage itself. "For any association with a web series, the discussion needs to start before the scripting; we need to ideate together, and the brand needs to fit in it, and those aspects cannot be evaluated when the series is already created," says Sudip Ghose, vice-president - marketing, VIP Industries.

It's too early to calculate the RoI and set a benchmark is what Ghose feels. He saw the brand fitting in the story and that is why the decision of going ahead with the association was taken. "I will say we are 70 per cent satisfied with the association," he says.

The reason for Ola's association with TVF's 'Permanent Roommates' was the Indian-ness of TVF and the content it produces. "Comedy, as a whole, has witnessed significant growth in the last couple of years, and TVF has earned huge respect in that space. Its establishment as a quality production unit, its understanding of the cultural fabric of today's youth, and its connection with the audience suited us," says Raghuvesh Sarup, CMO and head of categories at Ola.

"While associating with a web-series, it is extremely important to weave in the brand into the storyline; else, it stands out like a forced product placement. With TVF's 'Permanent Roommates', we have been able to engage with our audience by way of original and off-beat content where Ola has been an integral part of the narrative," he adds.

Y-Films from Yash Raj Studios, Ajay Chacko and B Saikumar's digital venture Arré, and the production house FremantleMedia, too, have launched web series. It now remains to be seen if the supply and demand strikes a balance, and the content gets monetised to bring in profits for the creators.

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