afaqs! news bureau

Has the early promise of online video been realised?

The improvement in bandwidth, accompanied by a fall in prices, gave the online publishing business new hope on the monetisation front thanks to online video. A reality check for 2018.

In an earlier session on Day 1 of Digipub World, the panelists discussing ‘Changing Ad Formats’ predicted that online video will be the most promising ad format of the future. On Day 2, four experts sat down and discussed the issue threadbare. What emerged were some fascinating insights.

Has the early promise of online video been realised?
The panelists (from left) Rohonesh Kar, Nishant Radia, Rameet Arora and Chanpreet Arora with moderator Ashwini Gangal

The session, titled Online Video 2018, featured Chanpreet Arora, CEO, VICE India, Nishant Radia, co-founder, Vidooly, Rameet Arora, chief operating officer, HT Digital Streams and Rohonesh Kar, presales leader, Akamai Technologies. The session was moderated by Ashwini Gangal, executive editor, afaqs!

Gangal went straight to the nub of the issue with the question, “Have publishers exploited the promise and potential of video? And when it comes to video what have web publishers got right?” Rameet’s answer to the first part of the question was an emphatic No. A more circumspect Kar felt that “we are not there yet” although web publishers in India have been early adopters of leveraging video as a platform. The opportunity was there – four years ago, back the average time a user spent on mobile or laptop was 13 minutes. In 2018, that has grown to 46 minutes a day. Moreover 75 per cent of all the mobile internet traffic in India today is video.

Kar’s focus was on scale, user engagement and monetisation. “I feel that publishers are staring at the tip of the iceberg. For instance, an OTT platform like Hotstar can actually provide a platform for 10.3 million Indians to watch a cricket match.” When it comes to monetisation, one needs a sustained inflow to be able to do more. According to Kar, by leveraging tech, ad fill rates can actually go from 50 to 90 per cent (or more) for extremely premium content like sport - which is what Sony Liv did during the India-South Africa series in December and even for the FIFA Football World Cup.

“When we talk about video, every creator is a publisher,” said Radia. Taking this into account, his answer to publishers exploiting video’s promise was firmly in the affirmative. With so much content being created and consumed, anyone who is starting today but not making money means that they are doing something wrong. Radia pointed out that it is somewhat difficult for larger companies as their investment is huge and they look for a large return. “Video is expensive. Video is hard work. Video is investment. I think publishers are starting to make investment and play the scale game but what we thought was a clear path to the Holy Grail has proved to be very challenging,” declared Rameet. In short, just making a video and putting it online does not mean scale. So, are people still waiting for the right moment?

“I think this is the moment - for creators and publishers (especially regional and national) - to go heavy on content. At the same time, nobody can sit back and say they know how to make money out of the content investment because the larger revenue stream has not stabilised,” felt Chanpreet. She points out that every publisher is innovating. Every publisher is engaging with the audience - whether it is with the variety of the content, with the languages, the subtitling or with the file encryption. “You don’t need a market share percentage to define the tipping point to profitability. You could be a niche publisher and still be profitable,” she added.

On the flip side, is there too much content floating around? What is the kind of content people want to watch. In OTT, for instance, there is dark content that is gaining traction. How much does the cost of production affect content generation? These are some of the questions haunting those who are in the business and those watching it keenly.

Chanpreet does not feel that there is too much content. “I don’t think we have even scratched the surface - especially when we talk about web publishing. Till about a year ago, on Google search, only 3 per cent of search for TV content was outside of Hindi and English. Does that mean content on TV was only Hindi and English? No, there are 12 major languages in which content is being produced. Today, how much of that content is easily accessible to users or easily discoverable for users across platforms? We cannot have a filter of one or two languages and ask if there is too much content.”

On whether content was becoming dark, she drew attention to news channels 10 years ago. The biggest thing that stood out amongst the biggest brands in Hindi news was crime and investigation. “I don’t think ‘dark’ is a new genre that digital people are investing in. Our sensibilities are as dark as they were a decade ago,” she said.

The lack of monetization is not because there is too much content. For instance, the largest source for video is YouTube but - according to Rameet - not more than 5-10 per cent of the videos on YouTube get monetised. The truth is that not every video is monetisable. “There are many reasons for that. Advertisers chase consumers, they chase context, they chase credibility, they chase engagement and they chase consistency. There is a lot of content but, over time, they will find their way into bucket sets of monetisable or non-monetisable type of content,” was Rameet’s analysis.

So, the future is all about making content discoverable? “That is what we have been trying to do,” said Radia. “If you have created the right type of content make sure it reaches the right audience. For that, you need to understand the audience. YouTube may not be make sense for a large publisher who has invested money.” Content creators have a herd mentality. Radia pointed out that when TVF made more money than Splitsvilla on a serial, many went for the web series model. “It may seem like there is too much content out there but if you spread it over 50 categories there is a dearth of content actually,” said Radia.

Regional language is an attractive proposition. According to Radia, there is a lot of demand but supply is a problem. He gives the example of beauty creators in Kannada. Three beauty creators clocked 80 million views in the last six months on YouTube. In Marathi, 10 food creators clocked a cumulative 300 million views recently. Of this, two are mainstream publishers. “People want to watch more content. It is all about identifying what content people want to watch and then creating and feeding that need.”

Kar has a technological take on the issue. “The space is just right for disruption, which is a combination of opportunity and gap. Take, for instance, new-age start-up Editorjee. It uses a lot of behavioural science, AI and machine learning to get the right news to the right audience. Not everyone wants to watch what is thrown at them. From a tech perspective, that is where the focus is going to be. And that is what we are not doing enough today,” was his contention.

So, what will the world of ad formats look like in the near future vis a vis monetisation? Quickfire responses went like this.

Chanpreet: “Contextual advertising.”

Rameet: “Co-creation and branded content.”

Radia: “Influencer video marketing.”

Kar: “Context while interacting with audiences.”

The fact is there is a lot of video content about and video is here to stay. This is a far cry from 2005 when YouTube went live. The only problem, it would seem at the moment, is the monetisation of video. The trick is in how marketers keep up and ahead. This session cleared away some of the smoke surrounding online video.

The event is partnered by - (platinum partner); Akamai and Facebook (silver partners); and Freshworks, Vidooly, comScore, Quintype, Times Internet, and 24 Frames Digital (bronze partners).

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