Anirban Roy Choudhury

Is OTT beginning to resemble the TV business?

Viacom18's Raj Nayak, Applause Entertainment's Sameer Nair, Balaji Telefilms and ALTBalaji's Nachiket Pantvaidya, and Zee5's Tarun Katial took up the discussion at vdonxt asia.

In just two years the nature of the online video business in India has changed dramatically. As it morphs, becomes more original and gains in size, it appears that it might bear a resemblance to its bigger brother, i.e. TV. And that was precisely the topic of discussion that unfolded at the third edition of vdonxt asia in Mumbai. The responsibility to find a fitting answer fell to moderator Janine Stein, editorial director, Content Asia, as she took up the topic with her panellists - Raj Nayak, COO, Viacom18; Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment; Nachiket Pantvaidya, group COO Balaji Telefilms and CEO ALTBalaji; and Tarun Katial, CEO, Zee5 India.

Is OTT beginning to resemble the TV business?

L-R: Sameer Nair, Nachiket Pantvaidya, Janine Stein, Raj Nayak, Tarun Katial
Click on the image to enlarge

The session began with a simple question - what do the panellists consider as OTT and TV? Tarun Katial was the first to respond stating that he is fundamentally not in agreement with the fact that TV and OTT are close to being the same. According to him, the technology involved in delivering OTT content to the end consumer and the manner in which consumers consume it differentiates the two. "In linear TV, there is no on-demand content; the challenge of the consumer skipping a video in 5 seconds, doesn't exist," he explianed.

Raj Nayak followed Katial and agreed with the Zee5 CEO regarding the technology. "If you look at OTT platforms today you will see that most of the consumption is regular fiction programming. It could be due to the scale of the content that is available on the platform that broadcasters have put all their catch-up TV content here. But there is very little original content," he said. Nayak is also of the opinion that Indian Television will start to evolve and follow the "seasonal" direction as the West does. "Earlier, when you made a show, you compared it with Star, Zee, Sony or Colors. Now, you also compare it with what's happening on Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, ALT and others," Nayak added.

Pantvaidya, in his opening remarks, defined the television consumer as a "family viewing consumer". It is also his opinion that the OTT consumer prefers to consume the content "individually". "From the business point of view, in India, it is not possible for you to run a subscription-only business (television), while OTT allows you to do so," Pantvaidya remarked. He also shed light on the high acquisition cost involved in running an OTT business today which is very different from TV. As per his assessment, it requires Rs 300-400 to acquire an OTT subscriber. While that's a challenging difference, he was quick to let the audience know about the positive side saying, "India is largely a single TV household; so, in most cases, you get one subscription per household. When it comes to OTT, you can get three subscribers per house," he stated.

As the discussion progressed, the panellists continued to highlight the similarities and the differences between the two platforms.

OTT, according to Katial, allows content creators to experiment with various languages and enables one to target a particular segment instead of chasing the mass. "On January 26 we are launching a film which is in Marathi and Urdu. One protagonist is from Kashmir while the other is from Maharashtra and they will speak in their native languages. We are a multilingual platform and all our content is subtitled and dubbed in multiple languages. Now, analysing consumption behaviour, we are noticing that subtitles seem to be enough and we don't really need to have a dubbed version. Also, learning from Narcos' success, I think keeping the content in its native language can work," Katial outlined.

Concerning content, Pantvadiya is of the opinion that one needs multiple ideas to run a successful OTT business. "You could run a channel with one idea and three good ideas would take care of the P&L of the entire network. On OTT you can't do that because you need to create more shows," he said. Nayak immediately countered saying, "The big advantage of OTT is you can execute as many ideas as you want and put up any number of shows while on television, it is restricted to a particular number of hours."

Sameer Nair concluded by saying that OTT might open up more opportunities and Indian Television, which has never really had its HBO Showtime moment or never really created shows like The Sopranos or The Wire, can eventually move in that direction. Crime and Thriller, according to him, works best to help kick-start consumption for a new platform while all genres provide equal room for creativity.

The question, largely, stayed un-answered and, therefore, it remains to be seen if OTT will indeed start to resemble TV or if TV starts evolving as a response to OTT.

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