It all started with a text message sent by Ronnie Screwvala to B Saikumar. After four-five meetings, the duo got excited with the possibility of disrupting something in the digital content space. With vistas in the new media world opening up rather swiftly, the two former television professionals, along with Ajay Chacko, co-founded Arré — a digital media brand. In a freewheeling chat with BrandWagon’s Chandni Mathur, Screwvala, along with Arré co-founder & MD Saikumar, speaks about the boom in the digital space and how Arré plans to make a mark. Excerpts:
Q. How did the conceptualisation of Arré happen?
Saikumar: With the infrastructure falling into place and 4G opening up, the advertising dollar was also quickly shifting. We knew that just a great idea is not going to move the needle; it has to be an idea supported by the environment and that’s how we decided that we should take a plunge in creating what could be a new idiom in original, digital-only content. The second step was what this content would be, and we were very clear that unlike in TV where you have different channels, we will not allow these walls to dictate our content and therefore a name like Arré. This is an expression that stands for what we want to create.
Q. Why did you feel this is the right time to invest in a digital brand?
Screwvala: First, it makes no sense for anyone except large broadcasters to start a new channel. Second, the demographic we were looking at is already moving out of television and onto digital media. The thing stopping them from actually going forward is the bandwidth and the cost of that bandwidth. The other limiting factor will be if you have all the bandwidth but don’t have offerings that are different from what one has already seen on TV or movies.
Understanding our consumers is ingrained into our DNA — questioning what they are going to do and trying to preempt a trend is the difference between being mildly successful and very successful. We always think this is it, but everyday our research shows us new insights. On digital, the good part is you can bet on the younger demographic, which in five years is going to be the core demographic.
Q. At the time of its launch, what kind of content will Arré have?
Saikumar: Our primary goal is to entertain and put up content that equally attracts the head and the heart. We want to do stuff which is very real and contextual, but it could be fiction or reality; within fiction, it could be a crime thriller, a sci-fi drama or a downright comedy, and we are embracing all of these. We have already commissioned around five-six series across genres and are also releasing India’s first digital-only reality series which is as much a social experiment as a reality show. We are also making documentaries with The Indian Express Group, merging with the investigation skills and access that the group has. We have three documentaries already underway. We are also looking at podcasts. This leaves us with text and other art forms, where we will try and entertain as much as we can and leave one with an arré moment. We may have a story to tell in seven minutes or 40 minutes.
But we will ensure that the 40-minute story is also available in seven-minute blocks for low bandwidth customers. The opportunity of non-linear and digital scheduling is immense. We are clear that we have to be very youthful and are looking at the 18-30 segment in the top 40 markets.
Screwvala: The unfolding of content will be at a rapid pace and we have a schedule. We don’t want to be predictable about the intervals at which we bring in new content, but we also don’t want to be so unpredictable that people feel it’s just a one-off.
Q. Is the business model still a challenge in the digital space?
Screwvala: If there was a successful business model, there would be 400 people already in the space. The next three-four years will be spent creating the business model. Having said that, there is an advertising model in place, so it’s not all that alien. The big challenge will be: what next?
Saikumar: We have stitched up four-five partnerships across categories. We hope to triple this number before the launch. Later, we will move on to performance based advertising and will keep an eye on some form of customer transaction revenues as well.
Q. With several media companies now launching their digital offshoots, do you think everyone is just jumping onto the bandwagon?
Screwvala: I think there are some great people who have started these platforms only with a content DNA. They wanted to do something, were quite liberal about the thought process and then experimented, and that’s how you have companies like a TVF and AIB. The commercials have not been their first constraint. There were some companies which also tried but couldn’t sustain this.
The second part of the ecosystem is the MCN (multi-channel networks) and that I feel is a jugaad Indian model where you want to do everything. Then you have the conventional media companies and some regional language players and they will look at it as an extension of their business.
Then you have the global players like Amazon and Netflix. I think they will have their own lessons to learn of trying to get a foreign footprint into a culturally strong Indian environment where most media companies took 20 years to realise that they won’t succeed unless they go the local way.
Q. Do you see any consumption shift from TV to digital?
Screwvala: Even if you see TV in the US, the subscription market has grown significantly but there is also a strong advertising market. The amount of dollars that still go on TV advertising is huge, and that is a market which is most advanced. So India has another 20-30 years to go.