Over the last weekend, viewers across the globe were given a taste of the future of TV viewing with Netflix's Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, which was released on December 28. A 'choose your own adventure' experience, Bandersnatch managed to kick-start a conversation about the possibilities of content creation and consumption going forward with the evolution of over-the-top (OTT) platforms.
In light of the rapid leaps being taken by leading OTT giants to revolutionise the viewing experience, it is not at all surprising that media houses closer home too are betting big on the OTT platform business.
One such media house is Balaji Telefilms which has been making waves with its subscription-based video on demand platform, ALTBalaji. In a freewheeling chat with Fortune India, Sunil Lulla, group CEO, Balaji Telefilms, said although TV is going to be the main revenue generator for the company for a while, OTT is all about building a future-ready business.
“Research shows that about 92% of homes in India are single TV homes, and about 80% of viewing is done together with the family. So TV is here to stay,” Lulla said, adding that TV will be the mainstay for Balaji.
“For us, our films business will be focussed on reputation and brand building. We don’t make big budget, big-ticket films,” he said, before going on to say that the OTT business, ALTBalaji, is where the guns are being trained.
“OTT is not just about putting your content on a digital platform, the game is that it is not the same content,” Lulla explained, adding that the same viewer will look for varied content when watching TV with family, movies with friends or watching content on an OTT platform alone.
Balaji is looking to focus on developing a content pool which keeps viewers hooked and coming back for more. “We want it to be habit forming ad binge-worthy,” Lulla said.
ALTBalaji is closing the year 2018 with 30 shows under its belt and the order book for 2019 is looking good; 40 more shows are already in production with 30 more ready and cleared, Lulla says. All these 40 shows are in Hindi. However, ALTBalaji is now looking beyond Hindi. Lulla said that there is a plan to expand to other languages over the medium term.
Currently, around 70% of the total content viewing on ALTBalaji is done through free channels or subsidised telecom schemes. Why is Balaji looking to channel its energies and monies into this space? The answer, according to Lulla, is simple–the scope for growth is immense.
“TV contributes around 80% to our total revenue, while the film business contributes around 15% and OTT 5%. I see the OTT business overshooting the film business on this front in the next three to four years,” he said.
Lulla also said that creating content will be the main focus, with Balaji constantly keeping up with what viewers are looking for. He added that ALTBalaji is even exploring the possibility of launching a daily show on the OTT platform.
When asked if Balaji was planning to take on global giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video by following their footsteps of aggressively promoting new releases, especially through several hoarding and billboards, Lulla said they will not be doing the “OTT” version of marketing.
Lulla believes that the OTT space will be in the early stages of growth till about 2023-24. “Like TV, the OTT space, too, will start regrouping. People who have good ideas for shows and can tell good stories will survive,” he said, adding that while many players might stick to the advertising model for revenue only a few will successfully manage to play the subscription game.