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Digital needs a common currency like BARC for better monetisation

MUMBAI: With smartphone penetration growing and data costs coming down over the top (OTT) content consumption is growing. There are opportunities for personalisation in terms of content and advertising. However, there is no common currency for measuring content on digital, unlike TV which has BARC India.

So far digital has been getting away with quite a bit on this front but going forward the medium needs to set the bar high when it comes to measurement. That will lead to better monetisation. Also improving technology and being innovative with the customer experience will be crucial to being successful.

These points were made at an IAA Conversations event called ‘Overview and Insights of OTT’. The speakers were Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan and Dentsu Aegis Network chairman, CEO South Asia Ashish Bhasin. The session was moderated by BTVI COO Megha Tata.

Mohan made the point that digital has got a free pass over the past four years when it comes to measurement. “You grade your own homework. In TV, the bar is high on transparency. If an ad is not fully viewed then it doesn’t count. Digital needs to keep the bar high.”

He noted that on digital an ad on mute as well as an ad viewed for just a few seconds count as a view.

Bhasin noted that given its nature digital should be the best measured medium. “But the reality is that there isn’t a commonly accepted currency. One agreed upon standard currency is needed on which digital is transacted. Now BARC is talking about measuring digital. In TV, we are fortunate that there is BARC which is the currency that is agreed upon,” he stated.

He also noted that in digital there are privacy issues and so the line between privacy and measurement is fine. He also pointed out that the advertiser doesn’t know if a user is clicking on the ad or a bot. There is also the issue of not knowing the context in which one’s ad is being viewed.

For instance, there may be an online video of a gruesome murder and an advertiser wouldn’t like his/her ad to be viewed in that context. “In what context the consumer is seeing an ad often isn’t known. This is a battle,” he said.

On a brighter note, it was pointed out that there are opportunities for personalisation of content and ads. On TV ads can be intrusive as a programme forcibly takes a break. Digital allows the platform and advertiser to know who the individual consumer is and what the impulse towards purchase might be.

Mohan noted that with OTT can marry the deep engagement of TV with the audience targeting of digital. “Digital allows you to understand the audience beyond age, gender, location. Consumers are more nuanced. The more we understand them the more we can fine-tune our platform,” he averred.

He also made the point that in digital content consumption stereotypes are broken. “For instance, someone who watches a Tamil movie might also be a fan of Arsenal. A person might watch both ‘Yeh Rishta’ and ‘Game of Thrones’.”

Mohan further noted that digital and TV has a complementary relationship. Affinity for a show is built on TV and then that gets leveraged across devices. He said that cricket has been a powerful acquisition as it leads to people coming on to the platform for a match and then viewing other content on Hotstar.

For him, the challenge is to be a better technology platform which is especially important when millions of people are on a platform at the same time for example during the India versus Pakistan match.

He further noted that technology will be the difference between the platforms who succeed and those who do not. He conceded that there are things to learn from a platform like Netflix in this area.

Mohan also said that the company has been surprised at the response that Hotstar Premium has received so far. American movies, TV shows are showcased here and it doesn’t make sense to offer them for free. TV shows are showcased before their linear broadcast.

Hotstar is also open to taking third party content even if it has not been commissioned by Star India. “We are open to other storytellers,” Mohan said.

Mohan also stated that the hypothesis when Hotstar launched was that mobile would be the second screen as India is predominantly a single TV household. He also rejected the notion that digital is primarily meant for short-form content as a TV show, a movie, a sport all have a great story.

“No-one would watch long-form content on the mobile was a myth. Hotstar focuses on long-form content,” he averred.

Bhasin noted that India is unique in that every medium is growing. It is not that one medium is growing at the expense of another. “All the boats rise in a wave. Unlike the west print is growing here though regional is growing quicker than English. TV will grow,” he said.

He also pointed out that it is important to recognise that digital will affect all businesses. For him, an inflection point will happen when smartphones reach 40% of mobile phone penetration.

“We are 18-24 months away from that. We are moving quickly in that direction though with sub Rs. 500 phones,” Bhasin expounded.