Big data allows OTT platforms to sharpen storytelling for originals

MUMBAI: Over the top (OTT) platforms are increasingly looking at originals to grow their brand and boost perception. Big data is important when it comes to sharpening storytelling of originals. At the same time, originals are not the be all and end all for OTT platforms. A lot of TV content is being consumed on OTT. At the same time, there is an opportunity for OTT platforms to create originals that target the masses and not just the premium audience.

TV worked on a volume basis where a show needs hundreds of episodes. But with OTT you can do just 10 episodes. It is not just about volume. The aim of OTT is to create many shows and movies for different consumers. The point of OTT is not creating 100 episodes for one show. It is about telling a story in the most effective manner. That is because the broadcast model works on filling slots in the schedule to get advertisers. OTT does not work like that.

TV targets the lowest common denominator but OTT original content targets audience segments. The genres, formats on OTT when it comes to original content creation are ones that we could not see on TV earlier like Amazon’s ‘Made in Heaven’. Earlier, the medium available was not able to tell this story. One challenge facing OTT platforms is the huge amounts of money devoted to marketing which is sometimes more than the cost of content creation.

These points were made during a session on the third and final day of FICCI Frames 2019 the convention for the business of media and entertainment. The session was called ‘Original Content-The Emperor’s New Clothes’.

Amazon Prime Video director, country manager India Gaurav Gandhi said that when audience segmentation happens with data you realise the behavior of customers at large his kind of story, character. It gives great insight and allows the platform to embellish the story better. It is a great combination of art and science that comes together using data. At the same time, we have not reached a point where you tell stories only by using data. But data enables creators to build sharper stories.

Wattpad Studios (Asia) head Dexter Ong said that the advantage of his company is that it is a platform which has 500 million stories. From consumption patterns, it knows which the trending genres are and which genres are strong even before content is adapted into books, movies, and TV shows. His company co-produces content with OTT platforms.

ErosNow COO Ali Hussein said that when one looks at subscription as a business one needs high cinematic quality content with deep narratives and deep storytelling as that will enable one to dip one’s hand into the customer’s pocket. This is the key differentiator where the customer sees value in the content, technology, and experience in order to charge them some money.

On the other hand, the ad OTT business is driven by short-form content and by TV catch up programming. Eros used box office data to create ErosNow in 2012. The way in which data plays a role is that the company knows what ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ does for audiences and what ‘Bajirao Mastani’ does for audiences.

He gave the examples of two comedies done by ErosNow one of which was ‘Side Hero’ and the other was ‘Metro Park’ with Ranvir Shorey as the hero. One was a comedy and the other was about Bollywood and the production business. The company got viewership from the US, UK, and Canada from ‘Metro Park’ but the other show got viewership from different parts.

So the company takes data and gets learnings of what was watched, why there were drop-offs and so on. These learnings are taken into the second season and into genres. Data is an enabler; however, it is not the decision maker in the process. The company has worked in many genres including comedy, drama, thrillers and a musical.

MX Player chief content officer Gautam Talwar said that his company gets a humongous amount of data. The reach of the company’s platform is huge and extends far beyond the Metros, he explained. Those cohorts need content pieces that appeal to them and their need states. It could be indulgence, escapism etc. Satisfying those need states is the key and one also needs to see that there are enough cohorts around those need states. Earlier the consumer consumed MX Player in an offline mode and his aim was to understand his/her habits then.

It wanted to understand what consumers actually wanted to watch on their own. That gave the company a huge amount of insight into programming that they actually want to watch and then one can slice it into Metros/Non-Metros, tier one, tier two cities. MX Player also wanted to understand the kind of audiences it had before the launch of streaming.

“Every single data point adds to our understanding of content creation. We understand the emotional highs, emotional lows,” he stated.

Voot business head AVoD Akash Banerji said that to a great extent OTT platforms are using data to a huge degree not just for content publishing or audience delivery but also in the content creation part. The degree may vary though. If one does not use data to help with content creation then the platform is surely missing out.

Data helps analyse audience segments that needs to be acquired that the platform is not strong enough on, what kind of audience segments need to be retained, what is Voot strong on from a platform side, a supplier side and how does it start dishing out content at scale which will help in the ability to acquire specific audience segments or help retain audience segments.

“The decision of what genres, whether one should look at short form or long form, is it better to give all the episodes together or release it on a piecemeal basis? Do you have big casts or relatable faces? All these decisions are easily answered where data pretty much becomes the content center,” Banerji said.

At the session, it was noted that big data will destroy the secret cohort of five people creating content. The democratisation of the creative process is a significant change. Content creation will not be the prerequisite of 10 people. Having good data will be increasingly important.

Banerji noted that OTT businesses will certainly push the boundaries when it comes to content creation. Great content creation though will not be enough to change the narrative for digital businesses. The world of content consumption cannot be devoid from the experience of it. How consumers discover content on and outside the platform, the experience the tech power of it will all play a very important and critical role.

Gandhi pointed out that streaming offers the opportunity to understand consumers’ behaviour and this will be used by some platforms a lot more and by others a lot less. Data can be used to figure out if certain genres are being underserved or over-served. Data can be used to understand how a platform can engage better with consumers.

Ali also feels that this is going to be a great time for content creators where a lot of effort will be spent in the writer’s room, the set-up, the characterisation, the profiles, and narrative. The depth will be given to stories that deserve it by the SVoD players.

He thinks that Indian content creators and platforms will stand up on a global scale due to programme quality and some stories will definitely crossover. He also said that are collaboration opportunities to work with partners abroad on interesting stories. His company is doing co-productions with South Korea and China. As digital gets more mature in terms of online viewing the audience becomes more global in nature.

On the economics side of things, Shemaroo Entertainment COO Kranti Gada said that one challenge in building a profitable business is the amount of marketing monies that the platforms need to spend to establish that content. It is the same or sometimes more than the cost of creating that content. Also, content discovery and building loyalty to that platform is a challenge.

“When a platform says that it will make 70 shows or 100 shows in a year how do you establish them in a consumers mind? How does content discovery happen? If these problems are solved then you can build a robust business model to fund consistent creation of better content.,” she said.

She said that earlier the distribution model did not allow for targeting niche audiences. But the audience her company is looking at is different from the audiences for premium original content on OTT platforms. That content targets the top two to three percent of their audience. But there are masses unable to grasp these kinds of content choices.

Shemaroo, she said, targets those masses through content like regional, devotional. It made a series of 25 documentaries on the Kumbh Mela. It is targeting the absolute masses. Having said all of this, she added that originals are not the only thing that is working for OTT platforms. A lot of TV content gets consumed on OTT platforms like Hotstar and ZEE5, she said.

Amazon, she noted, is probably investing way more in acquiring the rights for Bollywood movies than in creating Original Indian content. Original content is not the end all and be all for OTT platforms. Familiarity goes a long way in content consumption.

In terms of content prices, Ali said that the ecosystem is stable enough to ensure that it will not be a bubble but a hard reality. He said that entry barrier cost is there due to the cost of customer acquisition is expensive but as the business matures and the weak hearted kind of die the business is there for people who are willing to see the long term.

Gandhi said that the Indian customer is extremely value conscious. The key is to give a service at a great value which is the aim of Prime Video.

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