‘Our long term strategy calls for growing investments in original content’

A year after the launch of its direct to consumer platform Q India, digital content company QYOU Media is planning to ramp up its investment in original content. QYOU entered the market with its international feed The Q Global. However, it quickly realised that local content would be far more relevant for India. So it pivoted its strategy around local content. It also has a myriad of distribution deals with various platforms.

To spearhead its India business, the company roped in media veteran Sunder Aaron, who is also the co-founder and Principal of Locomotive Global Inc. (LGI). This company focusses on creating shows and among other things has taken the local adaptation rights of the US drama ‘Ray Donovan’.

TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto caught up with the Q India co-founder, MD and Locomotive Global Inc. (LGI) co-founder and Principal Sunder Aaron to find out the progress made by the company and the plans ahead.

Excerpts:

Q India pivoted its strategy after launch. Could you shed light on it?

When we launched the channel in India, we thought that the international feed of The Q Global would be of interest to young Indian viewers. We quickly realised that The Q India would have to be a completely localised Hindi channel.

Fortunately, we were able to launch with a number of leading content partners such as Pocket Aces and Culture Machine etc. so we had a compelling programming proposition right from the start.

What is the investment being made by QYou India and what is the market gap that you are targeting when it comes to serving millennial audiences?

So far, The Q India has been an investment made by the parent company, QYOU USA. I can’t go into details about the funding levels, but suffice to say that the parent company continues to believe in growing The Q India. Much of the reason for that commitment to the market is the gap in the market that we aim to fill. That is, there are few general entertainment channels that are aimed at Young Indians 20-30 years old.

In terms of P&L what goals have been set for Q India?

Although I can’t go into particulars, I can tell you that we believe that both our business model and our programming proposition are equally unique, and therefore we aim to have a growing and profitable operation within a relatively short period.

How important is original content vis-à-vis curated content for Q India?

Original content is very important to The Q India’s business strategy. In fact, we are already working with our leading content partners to create programming together that is exclusive to The Q India.

Our long term strategy calls for growing investments in original content, and I am happy to say that we’ve already started developing shows, and have, in fact, launched our first Q India original series, a pranks show with popular digital influencer and creator UngliBaaz.

Could you shed some light on the content consumption pattern that you have seen on Q India so far?

Certainly anything related to the Astrology, Bollywood, and Cricket will get traction with our viewers. We’ve also seen a lot of viewership for prank shows and scripted series and comedy shows. Our focus is on digital influencers and we have found that when you allow them to do what they have already done successfully online or with their established audience, their fans also enjoy seeing that on TV. We recognise early afternoon and evening as prime-time periods for our audiences.

There are multiple OTT platforms and services in the country. What is the key to standing out and gaining consumer loyalty?

First and foremost, as we already know in India, Pay TV is not going away any time soon and will remain the dominant medium for years to come. OTT services that are aligned or partnered with Pay TV brands or broadcasters will always have a big advantage when it comes to promotion, reach, etc.

The fact is there are an incredible number and variety of creators in India making terrific original content that is never seen because they lack distribution or platforms. With that in mind, the exclusivity of programming can be of limited value. So with that said, while original content can be sexy and help drive a service’s profile, just as important to the success of an OTT service is its ability to partner with distribution platforms (Telco, Cable etc.), an increased focus on the vernacular markets (and content), and improved tech for its OTT platform.

Getting the business model just right is eminent. Not everyone will be able to charge a subscription fee, so then a significant reach will be required to drive ad revenues. It may be a juggling act, but it all starts with having a very clear content/brand proposition for the viewer. Know who your audience is, and then customize your strategy accordingly. That’s what we did!

Which way do you see the Indian OTT business model moving?

Let’s hope for a healthy mix of both AVoD and SVoD services in India. That way the Indian consumers will always have a healthy enough number and variety of services to choose from, which will also hopefully not come at too high an overall cost.

How do advertisers view digital?

It’s clear that digital media is showing consistent growth, but there remain limitations, such as the lack of a truly independent rating system similar to what Pay TV has in BARC. We expect expenditures on digital media to eventually cross over traditional broadcast, but of course, that will take several more years.

Advertisers and agencies are keen to fortify their media strategies by adding the reach to a targeted viewership that digital vehicles can bring to their campaigns, but they will always need the ability to measure these vehicles effectively enough to meet their clients’ expectations.

How challenging is the economic slowdown this year?

That’s a good question. Certainly there will be challenges, especially since ad expenditures are duly affected by economic slowdowns, but countering this force is the fact that entertainment spends by consumers (especially on TV) has typically shown itself to be recession-proof since TV and movies provide relatively inexpensive entertainment options to the consumer.

Any slowdown now will mark the first time that OTT businesses will be affected since they didn’t exist until relatively recently. So now we will have to see exactly how SVOD services, in particular, are affected in India.

Are there also plans to take Q India global?

Yes, QYOU Media, the parent company of The Q India, is already in numerous other countries with similar channels. We are also working on launching The Q India to the India diaspora globally via some partnerships we hope to announce soon.

What role is Jio playing in growing the consumption of digital content?

Jio is a terrific platform that continues to grow. Now their plans include expanding their business to encompass cable and Broadband. Clearly, they are an important and influential partner for any content service such as ours that is aiming to reach as many viewers in India as possible.

TRAI is looking at possibly putting a cap on platform services that DTH service providers offer. What is your view on this?

Not sure why a cap would be beneficial to the Indian customer. Now that the NTO has been implemented, subscribers now have the necessary transparency when selecting their channels. Platform Services are (for the most part) distributed free to the Pay-TV customers (The Q India is free to air, for instance), so it seems that it should be left to the platform or DTH provider to decide for themselves how best to utilise their capacity for channels and platform services.

TRAI is also looking at introducing regulation for OTT service providers on the lines of print and TV. Are you in favour of self-regulation or does a level playing field need to be created? The same content on TV that needs to be filtered can play on OTT without a censor.

I think that the OTT services are already doing a good job of self-regulation, and they will continue to improve according to the feedback they receive from the public and the government. It’s not necessary to have a “level playing field” between Pay TV and OTT. We’ll see as everything continues to emerge and grow. The exciting thing about our business today is how rapidly it’s changing and evolving.

Could you talk about Locomotive Global’s production slate?

We are currently in negotiations for the financing of a number of original scripted series for India. These projects run across genres and include horror, female-driven thriller, large scale scripted drama, and comedy. I hope to have more detailed announcements soon! Of course, we are always on the lookout for new concepts for The Q India as well.

How is ‘Ray Donovan’ being tweaked for India? Has a broadcast partner been decided on?

We are presently in negotiations with leading media production companies to partner on the series adaptation for India. While we continue to discuss creative options for the series with potential partners, one thing is for sure: the original series ‘Ray Donovan’ which we will draw upon is one of the best-written premium drama series in the last several years.

We are fortunate to have the scripts from several successful seasons as a resource for our remake. It’s going to be an incredible show that is made completely in the local language. Our ultimate objective is to place the series with a premium OTT service in India.

What do you look for before deciding to take the rights for a foreign show or a book?

There are several factors, but the most important factor for LGI is that the series is exceptionally well written. Of course, then the concept or series premise has to be translatable to Indian audiences. We believe that ‘Ray Donovan’ especially meets those important criteria.