Interview: Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji, and Group COO, Balaji Telefilms
Balaji Telefilms’ OTT platform ALTBalaji has spent the past two years tweaking its content strategy — from taking kids content out of its offering to launching shows that appeal to individuals rather than families. Nachiket Pantvaidya talks to Sonam Saini about the platform’s investments in original programming, IP rights and the regional market. Edited excerpts:
At the time of launch, kids content was part of ALTBalaji’s original line-up, but not anymore. Why the change in strategy?
The reasons for moving away from the kids’ genre is twofold. Firstly, we are a subscription-based service. So, unless you are above 18 years of age, you can’t subscribe. The other reason is that while making kids content, we realised that we need to have a large library. The turnout rate for animation is much lower than that for live action. Balaji Telefilms, traditionally, has not been a kids content production house. Hence, we modified our strategy to not focus on kids content, and instead focus on audiences in the 18-40 age group.
How has ALTBalaji fared in terms of subscriptions as of Q3 FY19? What kind of a programming mix are you looking at?
The platform has earned 13.1 million paid subscriptions as on February, 2019. We saw a twofold increase in the number of monthly active users which stood at 4.6 million, with a subscription fee of Rs 25 per month.
We plan to deliver minimum 24-30 shows in 2019. The cornerstone of our programming strategy is to create content for individual viewing, as opposed to family viewing. We will continue to cater to the Hindi-speaking and understanding audiences with a wider gamut of shows across genres.
Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat 3, Baarish, Bekaboo, The Verdict and Boo…Sabki Phategi are part of the content line-up. We have over 100 shows in various stages of development and production.
What kind of investment has been allocated for the next fiscal?
We have a cost base of Rs 150-175 crore for next year, with at least 75% of this going into content creation. We will also invest in marketing to create more direct subscriptions as our library becomes deeper.
What is the IPR arrangement between Balaji and its broadcaster partners? Do you have the digital rights for all Balaji shows?
We have the digital IP rights of a few of our shows. We evaluate this on a case-to-case basis, depending on whether we feel the TV show will have a digital audience. For example, we have the digital IPR of Dil Hi Toh Hai which means it is only available on ALTBalaji, whereas Kasautii Zindagii Kay is available on both ALTBalaji and Hotstar.
Has your TV content strategy changed?
We still see 88% of households having just one television set, and in almost 90% of these, family viewing is the norm. When an OTT consumer is watching television at home, it is usually with the family. So we are focussing on fiction content, and have created a supernatural genre for weekends that is more cost-effective than non-fiction.
How is your OTT content viewership different from that of TV?
Interestingly, 60% of our viewers are male, but the female audiences tend to watch twice as much as content as males on the OTT service. Apart from dubbing content in the Indian regional languages of Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, ALTBalaji dubs content in Arabic and Bahasa, too. The amount of time the viewer spends watching our content has also increased in line with the growth in the library.
How big is the regional market for ALTBalaji?
It isn’t very big right now. For the next 12 months, we will primarily focus on the Hindi speaking markets. We have launched a couple of shows in regional languages, including Bengali and Bhojpuri, and are planning to launch some Tamil and Telugu shows as well.
While ALTBalaji is building on original shows, why is buying movie rights not on the agenda?
We firmly believe that our content must be original, for it is critical towards forming a habit amongst the audiences. Also, it is expensive to acquire movie titles. We would rather invest our money and efforts in creating IPs that we fully own, and that can be brought back in seasons on ALTBalaji.