Interview: Ashwin Suresh, founder, Pocket Aces

‘Regional markets won’t drive pure-play growth’

Interview: Ashwin Suresh, founder, Pocket Aces
As regional markets are gaining access to the internet and education, they are beginning to consume content in English, says Suresh

Digital entertainment company Pocket Aces, known for its YouTube channels FilterCopy and Dice Media, ventured into informational and animation content last year. Ashwin Suresh talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the potential in live game streaming, and why Pocket Aces is yet to join the regional content bandwagon.

How much has production taken a hit with lockdowns being imposed again? What’s your 2021 content pipeline looking like?

We have been able to keep up with the content volume and output since we reworked a lot of our production processes to be able to shoot remotely.

We have built a content pipeline with some contingency and wiggle room. We have 15 long-form shows lined up for the year across both Dice Media and Gobble. The most recent lockdown is not good from an output perspective. But, since we had shot some content on our own ahead of the lockdown, we find that there are very favourable terms available in the market because people are willing to pay for content.

We want to learn about other verticals. We launched informational content under Nutshell and animation under Jambo last year. Over the next year or two, we will create more such channels. We are creating web series and long-format shows for OTTs and ourselves. Last year, we did one or two OTT shows; this year we are going to do 12. We are exploring the audio space as well.

Industry reports claim that regional content is driving the growth of video streaming platforms. Will you be going down that road?

I’ve never believed that regional content is going to be a game changer from the monetisation point of view. Besides, as regional markets are gaining access to the internet and education, they are beginning to consume content in English. I do look at it favourably. This year, we will remake some of our content into regional languages. We are going to develop original content in Telugu and potentially in Marathi, too. There certainly is an interest in exploring regional markets, but it is not a driver of pure play growth. This is true not just for us, but for most platforms unless the platform is dedicated to a particular language, like in the case of Aha! or Hoichoi.

As per an EY-FICCI study, online gaming grew 18% in 2020. How did Loco fare?

Loco has active users spending over 60 minutes daily on the app. On the viewership front, access to live streaming is no longer a challenge. About 400-500 million Indians have access to the internet and reasonably good hardware is available at affordable prices. On the supply side, it is harder because one needs additional hardware to stream live.

Loco Studio allows people to stream their gameplay live. About 20% of the users are skilled with large fan bases and almost all of them use additional hardware. The rest, who generate only 20% of views, do not use additional hardware. Sustaining live streams for long periods is not easy on low-cost mobile phones.

We will stream whatever consumers want to watch. Before Among Us became quite the rage, we were not streaming it, as there was not much demand. We also focus on games like Call of Duty Mobile or Free Fire that we know have a large market.

From a revenue perspective, advertising has big potential because of the amount of time users spend on the platform. The other important revenue source is in-app transactions. We have an in-app economy built on virtual currency and real currency which gives people a chance to reward their streamers or pay for certain features and privileges.

You added a new business vertical recently — Clout — for talent management. What prompted this?

We were not actively looking to get into this business. When our content started creating stars, the earliest being Mithila Palkar, they had several questions about offers and deals. It was in 2018 that we decided to start managing some of our talent — from negotiation of contracts to generating new work. We found that Pocket Aces is unique as we are a provider of digital services and producers of digital content for which we employ talent as well. Since last year, monetisation has gone up dramatically on a per influencer basis as well as on an overall P&L basis.

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