‘Branded content, the term, is getting a bad reputation’: Hosi Simon, CEO, Vice Asia Pacific

Hosi Simon speaks with BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about content creation for the youth, the company’s growth ambition and looking beyond metros.

‘Branded content, the term, is getting a bad reputation’: Hosi Simon, CEO, Vice Asia Pacific
Hosi Simon

As Vice Media’s long pending entry in India finally comes to fruition, recently launched Vice India looks to create a dent in the multilingual market with a bouquet of offerings across platforms and to ‘redeem’ branded content’s reputation. Hosi Simon speaks with BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about content creation for the youth, the company’s growth ambition and looking beyond metros. Edited excerpts:

What led to Vice picking India as its next market?

Launching in India has been a long journey for us. It is the most ambitious launch among the territories we are present in. Early this year, we opened an office in Singapore to focus on our growth in APAC. The number one reason was the opportunity India has to offer. We are not looking at this just as a ‘you need to be part of India if you want to be successful in this world’ thought. Of course there is the commercial opportunity, but ultimately, there is a cultural opportunity. What I mean by that is, India is such a diverse country which is very interesting and under-explored, and misunderstood by the rest of the world in terms of how creative it is. The young people in India are finding a voice, finding confidence in their culture, their stories, their own needs and finding the means to be able to share that with the world.

In the Indian market, digital reach is not as high as other markets. How will Vice India address this?

We want to be present on all distribution platforms where people consume content. We are not asking everyone to come to our own-operated platform so we are partnering to distribute our content as far and wide as we can. We are looking for engagement, for people to react to our content wherever they may find it and build an audience from there. In terms of how we approach making content, we are making platform-specific content. Looking at Vice around the world, we have really grown through partnerships with the likes of Facebook, Google, HBO, Sky or even brand partnerships. Here in India, we have partnered in the OTT space, with Facebook and AB InBev’s Budweiser to name a few.

On the content creation front, people in India that are deeply local and speaking to audiences about things that the traditional media is not covering or not putting any resources in covering is exactly what excites us. That wave of young content creators that come from different regions, different socio-economic backgrounds and different levels of education are the ones we want to align ourselves with. It is very important for us to do multiregional and multilingual content.

How do you plan to work around the challenges of the Indian market?

Headwinds that digital media is facing are similar in all territories we are present in. The old way of doing things; a scale play in a place like India or say the US for ever diminishing digital media dollars and CPMs is a race to the bottom. It is clear that it isn’t working. In terms of Vice, three or four years back we decided to change from being a mobile company to a high premium IP creation engine by entering into the TV market which allowed us to create an incredible library of content. We own this content which we are bringing to our partners all over the world, including launching branded content, OTT deals, SVoD deals and mobile deals so it is a very different proposition. But being a part of digital media, we are not in any way immune to those challenges but that is part of the business. There is a lot more to Vice than just digital media, which is our agency business and our studio business.

The path right now is to be profitable in the next 12 months. The goal is to be the number one news media company in India. What we are launching is a truly local media company. We are not launching Vice in India, we are launching Vice India.

The Indian market has numerous content outfits churning content for the youth. Where does Vice India see itself within this?

We want to speak in a language that young people understand. We want to let the subject of the story speak for itself and then let the audience decide what they make of it. It is such a simple thing to do but it is a very different way of looking at content creation here and many other countries around the world. It is not what a young person outside of major metros is used to, from my understanding. Generally speaking, they feel quite disenfranchised; they feel like they are on the outside and aren’t listened to.

We are in about 40 territories across the world and each of them produces local content. The best pieces of content from these pools find themselves in a ‘Best of…’ segment, if you will. That pool of content is available back to each of the territories again. Our goal by the end of this year is to produce about 70% local content and 30% global.

Which industries are you sourcing talent from?

We are sourcing people who are looking to do things differently; they may be frustrated in their own industry like advertising or content companies or agencies and be eager to push the creative culture further. People like that tend to gravitate to Vice. The average age of our employees across the globe is around 28-29 years. In India specifically, our target audience is between 15-28 years.

Can you elaborate on the company’s partnerships in India?

Virtue, our agency business, has two parts. One aspect is to solve brand needs like a traditional agency. On the other side, we have Vice Plus that uses Vice talents to answer media briefs — branded content. The one live right now is a Mountain Dew all-Hindi piece of branded content. Globally, we have also announced a multi-year partnership with Ab InBev around Budweiser, a culture-music partnership.
Branded content, the term, in India is getting a bad reputation. People think of it as a dirty word and a lesser form of content or simply as something bad. That doesn’t have to be the case. If it is bad, you just made a piece of bad content.

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First published on: 08-05-2018 at 00:06 IST