Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Where do UGC and OTT intersect?

Industry experts dissect the trends.

With the heavy penetration of digital and democratisation of content creation, producing content is not the walled garden of yesteryear anymore. Once content consumers themselves, these independent creators now have tools and platforms at their disposal and have already built a separate identity away from the mainstream offerings, i.e. User Generated Content or UGC. But is UGC the way to transition and enter the mainstream mediums? Panelists of one of the key sessions at vdonxt asia 2020, afaqs!' flagship digital video convention, dissected the issue carving out various facets of the transactions between UGC, mainstream OTT video and advertisers.

The discussion was moderated by Ashwini Gangal, executive editor, afaqs! and included Chhavi Mittal, actress and founder, Shitty Ideas Trending; Mohit Hussein, director, Shitty Ideas Trending; Neha Singh, director, Client Insights – Comscore; Nikhil Sharma (Mumbiker Nikhil), YouTuber and Vanita Keswani, chief executive officer, Madison Media Sigma. We have attached a video of the complete session at the end of this article.

(L-R) Ashwini Gangal, Neha Singh, Nikhil Sharma, Mohit Hussein, Chhavi Mittal, Vanita Keswani
(L-R) Ashwini Gangal, Neha Singh, Nikhil Sharma, Mohit Hussein, Chhavi Mittal, Vanita Keswani

Gangal started out by drawing an analogy between UGC and OTT, saying UGC is like street food and OTT is fine dining. She fired up the conversation by asking if UGC is the stepping stone to entering mainstream video. Responding in the positive, Nikhil Sharma said that while it's a give and take relationship where the creator benefits from the popular platform and the platform benefits from the popularity of a creator, it is important to opt for relevant opportunities only. "Followers and viewers are used to seeing you raw," he said.

Gangal then questioned if OTT was the ultimate goal. Mohit Hussein from Shitty Ideas Trending (SIT) opined, "OTT could not have been the ultimate goal since OTT wasn't there when SIT started. We were able to identify what our community wants to watch. We've built communities." He mentions that UGC is consumed by communities while OTT is consumed by audiences. "Communities have invested in what we create. They like to be connected to our lives, especially for bloggers. The content is real, less polished and doesn't seem like films. Our content looks like it was shot in someone's house. The ultimate goal isn't OTT since we would create content anyway for our communities. The transition will happen and paths will cross," he added.

Putting forth her views, Madison Media Sigma's Vanita Keswani said, "I think it's the other way round. It's the OTT's goal to go the UGC way. OTT is actually looking at it as an opportunity, although it is in a nascent stage."

Hussein countered that OTTs will, over time, have to create content on tight budgets and that's where UGC comes into play as they have already mastered the art of dealing with tight budgets.

"But do you worry about refurbishing and soul-selling when UGC goes for OTT?" Gangal asked. "OTTs are UGC creators since they realise the strengths and if they try to change that, the originality for which people have connected with it, will be lost," Hussein added.

Gangal then quizzed the panel about the impact TikTok and similar short format platforms are having on creators. While YouTuber Nikhil Sharma denied that it has had any impact, Mittal opined that the platforms have different types of audiences and the content of one won't work on another. Hussein added that on YouTube, there is a demand for longer videos from followers and offering shorter video leads to disappointment among viewers. "But we feel that it is always better to leave an audience wanting more, rather than giving more," he added.

Gangal then directed the conversation towards the advertisers' perspective on the UGC and OTT pools of content. "Do they see them differently? And is OTT considered safer?" she asked. "It can be a classification broadly, but it depends on the content strategy as a whole. There are so many formats and each has a role. TV communities are built on niche channels and this has always been used for building frequency, but it is just the reverse here. So UGC is used to build reach through various communities since you get many kinds of audiences on a common platform like YouTube. On the other hand, OTT can be used for frequency since you have fixed programme buys or content like TV soaps being seen on Hotstar. Short formats like TikTok is a third classification," said Keswani.

Speaking about brand safety, she added, "Brands do have reservations when buying through aggregators as you don't know the apps and websites your ads are going on and clients prefer to be on OTTs which are considered safer. Broadly, it depends on which UGC you choose and how you are buying it. And a third layer which I'd like to add is the lack of third party measurement that is missing in OTT most of the time. For UGC, you can measure it better in terms of views, likes, etc."

Gangal then asked the panel about trends and if there is a threshold of subscribers that UGC creators need to have before being approached by OTT platforms. Comscore's Neha Singh said, "UGC making it to OTT is limited to certain genres. I have seen it happen in genres like comedy and food, but I am yet to witness a tech influencer making it to OTT. Also, UGC platforms provide consumers a lot more to judge an influencer/creator. If I were to discover a creator on OTT, it would be a limited set of content that was published basis the OTT player's content strategy. Also, engagement is driven on UGC, and the average time spent on UGC platforms is higher."

Speaking on how relationships with advertisers have changed, SIT's Hussein said, "Advertisers today intrude less, prefer to be user-friendly way and do not want to interfere with the viewing pleasure. The conversation has become more mature." He added that viewers would earlier get offended by ads but have gradually realised that they are necessary for independent creators.

Nikhil Sharma opined that the conversation with advertisers has become much simpler. "They understand us better. There are creators who will just do it for money but there are others who want to do it organically. For example, I will not endorse an unhealthy food brand," he says. He also mentioned the importance of maintaining ethics and not working with too many brands at the same time.

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