Smartphone penetration has enabled single TV homes to become multi-screen: Gaurav Gandhi

MUMBAI: The penetration of smartphone and mobile devices has enabled single TV homes to become multi-screen homes, Viacom18 Digital Ventures COO Gaurav Gandhi said while participating in a panel discussion at FICCI Frames 2018.

He further stated that the watch time has shot up on digital. The most popular content on mobile is TV content whether it is live or catch up. He, however, also noted that some people are disillusioned with what TV is offering and that gives over the top (OTT) platforms the chance to offer differentiated content.

This phenomenon, he pointed out, goes much beyond the top 20 cities and towns. OTT content, he noted, is going deeper and becoming more regional.

He was speaking at a session called ‘Explosion Of Content in Multiscreen Environment And Emerging New Narratives in Storytelling’.

Discovery South Asia senior VP, GM Karan Bajaj said digital media companies are bleeding with losses written all around.

He noted that in India he had discussions with his team on the OTT space last year. The decision was made to go for the passionate community model for instance Veer By Discovery which is dedicated to military content. Discovery India decided against doing the aggregator model. Discovery was fine with costs for OTT but the issue was that the P/L had to make sense.

“A lot of companies’ aggregate content and the aim is to be a top three destination. The challenge is that they have to make the most expensive television content, they have to buy costly big-ticket movies, big sports rights. The other interesting model that has emerged is the niche, passionate community model. One digital brand that I have seen make money in the US is an American college wrestling brand. It aggregates content of college wrestling. You know this is the destination. They charge $5 a month and have a million subscribers. It super serves a very niche, passionate, niche community who love this content so much that they will pay for it. It is a financially viable model.”

He noted that if only a few people know about Veer By Discovery that is fine because it only targets the passionate military content consumer. For him serving niche communities is a huge whitespace. Discovery India’s focus rests on finding out the niche communities that need to be serviced. It can be auto, tech, food, beauty. This for him is exciting. It is about reaching an optimum level of scale that creates a viable business model.

Gandhi noted that Viacom18’s core broadcast business allows it to subsidise work digital. He further stated that just being a digital player will not work. The passionate community model works like the earlier restricts itself to a certain level. Gandhi noted that the disadvantage is that there is no ad model when targeting a niche audience. A million views on YouTube will not give much ad money for instance.

Insight TV CEO Rian Bester noted that digital content creators create content for older age groups as well. Smartphones are becoming ubiquitous.

He agreed with Bajaj about the importance of passionate communities but added that the content of his company can be consumed by anybody. there are no age boundaries.

Bajaj concurred with the reach potential of multi-screens saying that Veer By Discovery got 50,000 subscribers in a week far exceeding targets that had been set. He noted that Netflix bought all the content of Jeet before the channel was launched. While the contract says that Netflix can put the content on its platform a month after Jeet has aired it he doesn’t mind if it puts out the content sooner.

Bestselling author Amish Tripathi noted that the multi-screen environment will radically impact all content not just mythology. It is not just a young people phenomenon anymore. The Internet was supposed to be a great democratising tool. What has happened is the opposite. The average Joe is not there. As a content creator either you have everything or you are a small niche. If you have everything then it is played across all screens and platforms. Game Of Thrones, he said, also pushed book sales.

The internet makes it easier to serve small markets as they can download it whenever they want. You don’t have to service an entire family. So content creators will go to one of these two extremes Tripathi pointed out. The average Joe will find it extremely difficult. He also noted that the Internet makes it possible for the discovery of old forgotten content which can become popular after having been forgotten.

Facebook director entertainment partnerships Asia Pacific Saurabh Doshi noted that the role of social networks is to enable to audiences to actively engage with content. He also brought up Bajaj’s point about serving niche communities. It is about bringing the world closer together for Facebook.

Content is like a pillar like a sporting event where people stand on the street and watch it. That is the experience that Facebook wants to bring through content on its platform. People he noted spend a lot of time on mobile phones even in parties. As a platform Facebook feels the responsibility to connect people and have conversations going. Content is looked at from that lens. Does content drive more engagement and make people more active rather than just passive?

Eros Labs head and Eros Now strategic advisor Karan Bedi noted that creating content for a particular platform today is very difficult because everything is converging so fast.

In terms of revenue models, Gandhi noted that AVod grew over the past few years and it started with YouTube. The audiences are big, the reach is wide. The trick is to get substantial ad money one needs to a be a very large, wide platform. The money will go to the top three to five platforms. Voot started by deciding to sell digital separate from TV. Then it realised that shows like ‘Bigg Boss’ has a huge audience on both TV and on Voot. Is the best way to monetise separately or tell the advertisers that they can advertise on both platforms? This is something that Voot is figuring out.

The other part is subscription opportunity. You have to be clear about what is being charged. The subscription base depends on the price point. But for him India can have AVod and SVod like it is TV and digital. It is not about one or the other. Large ad money has come in and people are paying for content.