Five experts in the field attempt to answer this question.
In a session moderated by Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard, at our recently held annual convention vdonxt asia, five experts who represent different facets of the online video world, spoke about what 'innovation' means, in terms of content, technology and business.
Satya Raghavan, head of entertainment, YouTube, spoke about innovation in digital video as an occurrence across multiple axes - content, technology, consumer, monetisation, platform/distribution, people and product. According to him, cutting-edge content is that which has the element of innovation across all axes.
In the context of YouTube, one area of innovation is "the sheer amount of verticals and sub-verticals of content," he says. Movies, for instance is a vertical, but in 2017 a new sub-vertical called trailer reactions emerged on the platform. Around the same time, a sub-vertical just for dance emerged from the existing vertical of music. Across verticals, technology helps content scale.
"We see language really change the way YouTube is consumed in India," he says, referencing the recent in-flow of netizens who speak diverse sets of languages onto the platform. "YouTube speaks about 10-12 languages right now in India," he says, adding, "Suddenly I have creators making content in Marathi," something that didn't happen in 2015-16.
About the monetisation axis Raghavan says, "We just launched a feature called Super Chat - if there's a livestream going on, a user can actually pay the creator directly to get positioned right on top." He went on to remind the audience that a couple of years back, his team worked with newscasters in Europe to create a model wherein YouTube as a platform was given to publishers who then figured out ways to customise it to serve their own purposes.
Insisting that there can't be one single way to entertain a billion Indians, Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, Voot, gives his take on innovation in digital video, "There can't be just one version of Voot or YouTube or Hotstar that can go across to the top end, the belly and the lower end of the spectrum... " He spoke about Voot's effort to take digital consumption to people who are not always online - the team recently put hotspot boxes in 17,000 Maharashtra state buses so that commuters can stream videos without using mobile data.
Concurring with Raghavan's point about extracting more from a single piece -or type- of content, Gandhi says, "For a show like Bigg Boss, Voot has about six times the amount of content that is put on TV." And this is not just shot-for-TV content; it is spin-off content that is shot for digital, in a bid to "increase fandom".
"We market our content like an e-commerce business does," Gandhi says, revealing that of a total of 50,000 hours (which is roughly 1,00,000 pieces or units) of content on Voot, 53 per cent is viewed at least once, every day. On the technology front, team Voot is working with partners to fine tune its understanding of its users; application: predicting the age of a user just by looking at his/her picture. He also brought up the possibility of building, then monetising, a peer-to-peer distribution model for online video content.
For Sidharth Shakdher, head of marketing, Hotstar, "technology at scale" and "personalisation at scale" are some of the challenges facing his kind currently. "Today's consumer views content as a personal choice; what they watch is part of their identity. Then there's the aspect of social currency which arises out of the content one watches," he says.
To him, given the number of online video categories and genres today, just solving for the complexities in viewers' choices and behavior patterns, at scale, is innovation. Moreover, on digital, video today is not passive; it's interactive and people use it to express themselves online. "Expression is the second innovation... it brings people closer to the content," Shakdher says. Another challenge is to have a relationship -though the conduit of content, that is- with each of his 100 million consumers.
One of the challenges facing Vikram Tanna, VP, head of ad sales and business head, regional cluster (South Asia), Discovery Communications, is dealing with the fact that his loyal consumers (top urban, 15-20 million households) are now also on digital. The task now is to re-invent the content in order to keep up with this change. He goes on to talk about "packets of digital content" and "IPs that will co-exist on television and digital," as examples of innovation. To this end, his production teams shoot for not just long-form, hour-long content for TV, but also create separate seven-minute-long "story arcs" for digital.
"Distribution needs to be re-invented, across platforms, as well, Tanna adds, naming YouTube, Facebook, telcos (like Jio, Airtel, Vodafone) and television as the key cogs in the new distribution ecosystem. Discovery has a strategic arrangement with YouTube at the moment which allows the team to offer television-plus-digital to the advertiser.
For Vishal Maheshwari, country head, Viu, "going local and localised" is one way of innovating. TG-specific, local content is the way forward, according to him. On digital, non-fiction content, he reveals, is something he has found success in and will continue to invest in. "Digital is considered to be the poor cousin of television or cinema. We believe innovation on digital will be driven through an upward indexing on quality and scale," he says.
For Maheshwari, cross-platform play is important. An example of this is 'No. 1 Yaari with Rana', a regional (Telugu) product that ran on TV and on his OTT platform simultaneously. Future drivers of innovation, according to him, include video transcoding and harnessing data to drive personalisation.
Towards the end of the session, the moderator left the audience with an interesting question: Going forward, how much of the innovation in digital video will be analytics, as opposed to instinct, driven? Also, Vanita questioned, isn't payment mechanism an important axis on this graph?