Why is a travel aggregator app making entertainment content? We spoke to Shuchi Chawla, head - Brand Marketing, ixigo to understand the move and what it says about the category.
Online travel booking platform ixigo just stepped into the original content space with an all-original web series named 'Zindagi Express'. The series is a collection of eight short (5-minute) episodes which string together creating a story with a four-member family at the centre. But that's not the point.
The brand's rail ticket booking app - ixigo trains - now has an 'entertainment' section which features the films or long-format ad content, if we can call them that. The section also offers games, news and radio.
But why would a platform which is primarily a utility, bother to entertain users? Isn't the relationship about pay-and-proceed until the next time the user needs a booking? Unless of course, ixigo is trying something like Gaana, the music streaming app, that earns from ads and recently introduced videos to get users to spend more time on-screen. And who'll watch ixigo content when there are larger, monied players like MX Player, Jio etc. providing free entertainment? Then again, Flipkart started selling air tickets and OYO's selling food.
As per the ixigo team, users spend over 2.5 hours every month on the app primarily due to the travel-related information featured on the platform. The platform facilitates over 200 million monthly travel searches, 2.2 billion monthly screen views and serves 450 million monthly sessions.
"Content is king. Today, the investment is more in terms of idea, insight and execution and it's just the beginning. We solve the smallest user pain-points, which are probably low ROI but have long-term benefits. We intend to create and experiment with content that appeals to the masses in Tier 2 and 3 towns. 'Zindagi Express' started as an experiment for us. The idea was to create relatable content which stirs emotions, triggers fun memories and entertains. April to June is peak travel season especially for families and what better way than to showcase the life, adventures and conflicts faced by one such family planning its vacation," says Shuchi Chawla, head - Brand Marketing, ixigo.
She adds, "Our immediate objective is not on driving revenue, but to make sure that the 'trains' app becomes more relevant to our users, helping them during the entire trip. The biggest ROI for us is to be more useful and relevant in a traveller's journey."
From Chawla's vantage point as a marketer, clubbing entertainment with travel was a 'natural progression'. "Around 45 per cent of all travellers say they use their phones for entertainment when they're bored, especially during train journeys which are long and mundane. Users on an average, consume 3 to 4 hrs of content while travelling," she states.
By offering entertainment as a separate feature, ixigo aims to further increase retention and engagement with its 130 million users. The brand started experimenting with content on the 'trains' app during this year's IPL by introducing cricket scores. "Thanks to technology and cheap data, there's been a vast change in how people kill time today. We saw huge interest from users and it increased our visitors' average time spent on the app. There has been a major shift from textual content to audio-visual. The next billion users coming online will look out for voice-enabled features and audio-visual content. We are working to build on that and the launch of the entertainment section is a major step in that direction," Chawla signs off.
According to Debarpita Banerjee, head - FuelContent India and president - North and East, FCB Ulka, such content will create salience and some sort of pull for eyeballs. "Brands and especially platform/app brands, are constantly finding new ways to get customers onto their platforms. And content is one way of doing so. However, everything depends on how sticky the content is," Banerjee says.
"While I am not privy to the objectives, this seems like a brand endeavour rather than a business one. The content is just another way of engaging with the brand name or platform. It could also be to enable Search better," she adds.
Commenting on the phenomenon of a travel-based platform foraying into entertainment, Banerjee says, "Entertainment for brand building is now almost a norm. However, if the platform is foraying into the business of entertainment, then it is a severely competitive and high investment game. If the web series or any content they produce is sticky enough and builds on the brand proposition well (like Red Bull's content builds on high-octane energy), it will have an impact on the master brand too."
Sabyasachi Mitter, founder and MD, Fulcro (a digital marketing agency), considers ixigo's web series an attempt at branded content. He maintains that brands need to tread carefully. "The space has become cluttered not only because brands want to, but also because they think its the only way out. If marketers take too much liberty, the brand will be ignored and with too much intervention, it will seem like an advert. The line between an advert and a branded piece is very thin. How ixigo benefits is subject to the number of conversations the brand will attract, post viewership," he explains.
Mitter says, "I believe that both are two sides of the same coin. After all, Ixigo is also trying to bring in leads with this. However, whether it works in their favour or otherwise is something that only time will tell."
He adds, "A travel-based app foraying into entertainment is not surprising, but what is impactful is the subject they latch on to and how they bring out their seamlessness through entertainment. Despite ixigo's small advertising bouquet, the differentiators are quite evident. While the advertising is about building an intent to use the ixigo app, the series will work towards building a softer connect and a strong recall among regular audiences."