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OTT players not looking to overtake film trade: ALTBalaji CEO

OTT players not looking to overtake film trade: ALTBalaji CEO

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Streaming platforms are not looking at taking advantage of the closure of cinema halls amid the pandemic, says ALTBalaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya, adding that Direct-to-OTT release is the need of the hour.

OTT players not looking to overtake film trade: ALTBalaji CEO
ALT Balaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya.

At a time when the industry is reeling under the after-effects of shutdown owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, several small to medium-budget films have opted for digital release. The list include names like “Gulabo Sitabo”, “Shakuntala Devi”, “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl”, “Sadak 2”, and “Laxmmi Bomb”.

Pantvaidya believes this is not a step to overtake the big screen business, but is aimed at co-existence of screens.

“Covid-19 has given rise to many new normals, with the entire world trying to adapt to these as part of a new life. Cinema halls, like many other businesses, are already gearing up for post lockdown operations by putting a system in place. With this working model set to take a couple of weeks or so, coupled with the existing apprehension amongst consumers to step out, it is the need of the hour to release movies on OTT platforms,” Pantvaidya told IANS.

“We believe it is a hard time for theatre owners, and none of the OTT players are looking at it as an opportunity to overtake (cinema halls). People across both industries will find plausible solutions to co-exist and support each other mutually,” he added.

Asked how the pandemic has changed the reality of the OTT market in India, Pantvaidya said: “OTT content consumption has witnessed steady growth throughout, and it will continue to do so on its own. This situation has introduced a wider set of audiences to OTT who we believe will continue to consume our original content and end up being subscribers in the long run.”

The Group COO of Balaji Telefilms Limited also pointed out that the watch time and subscriptions of ALTBalaji increased during the lockdown.

“For ALTBalaji, watch time and subscriptions have been rising during this period, and we are witnessing a high level of growth across all key markets and demographics. It is interesting to note that viewers from Tier III and Tier IV regions, as well as women from smaller markets, have also been responding very positively,” he explained.

Pantvaidya continued to stress upon the role that the regional market plays when it comes to the OTT landscape in India.

“The regional market has a huge scope for OTT players to explore the segment through local and relatable content, and expand their footprint. ‘Massification’ of content has been ALTBalaji’s goal right from the beginning. We realised that growth comes from reaching out to the masses spread across the length and breadth of the country, where 70 per cent of the content consumed is Hindi. 56 per cent of our consumers are from the non-metro and Tier 2/ Tier 3 towns and cities. As one of the leading homegrown OTT platforms in the country, it makes all the more sense to focus our efforts in one direction and win over the Hindi-speaking population,” he said.

Looking back at the journey of the streaming platform, Pantvaidya shared: “Having set milestones and breaking new ground for over three years, ALTBalaji has been on top of the consumer’s mind owing to our unique narratives and clutter-breaking original Hindi content. Growing from strength to strength on the back of innovative business strategies, we’ve today become one of the major players in the Indian OTT industry and gain further encouragement by the massive increase in subscriber base. Our direct subscription revenue has grown over 100 per cent year on year.”

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The content library of the streaming platform comes with diverse stories and emotions with shows like “It Happened In Calcutta”, “Class Of 2020”, “Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain Season 3”, “Baarish”, “X.X.X. Season 2”, “Code M”, “Dil Hi Toh Hai Season 3” and “Mentalhood”.

“At ALTBalaji, we believe in creating shows that appeal across segments with narratives that are unique or untold. Our shows are a healthy mix of thriller, drama, romance, youth drama, horror, and comedy, among others. Each show present on the platform or in the pipeline has been created keeping in mind the audience’s interest across demographic and sociographic segments,” Pantvaidya said.

As per data of the company, almost 70 per cent of new subscriptions are coming in from Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns, and also stated that in non-metro cities, an average watch time is of 90 minutes per user. It also signalled that the platform has witnessed a spike in female viewership by 25 per cent across smaller towns like Patna, Lucknow, Bhopal, Indore, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, and Ludhiana.

Pantvaidya asserted that they are “ensuring that we dominate the Hindi-speaking markets and cement our position as a leader in this segment”.

He continued: “By tapping into the hinterlands, we have realised the growing demand for Hindi originals that those audiences find immensely relatable. This has helped us understand our viewers better and led to us into creating more entertaining offerings that resonate with them. ALTBalaji has been working towards its goals and is the first OTT platform that is already on the road to profitability. With our costs getting controlled in the first half of fiscal 2020, and the loss margin further reducing at the end of the current fiscal, we aim to break even in 2020-2021. We shall continue to focus on expanding our language content library in the coming years.”

Reflecting upon their Made in India content strategy, he explained: “Our strategy has been different from all our counterparts as far as content creation, partnerships and marketing are concerned. Our mindset towards reading the market early on and taking action at the earliest has helped us stay ahead of the industry curve.”

“Balaji Telefilms has been catering to the audiences’ ever-changing preferences for over 25 years. This has given us an advantage, of having a deep understanding and familiarity with the viewer’s consumption preferences. The backing by a production house of this stature contributes towards the success of the OTT platform. With content being our biggest differentiator, our priority is to create relatable content catering to not only Tier 1 but Tier 2, 3 towns as well,” he added.

According to the annual performance results of FY20 (Financial Year 2020), ALTBalaji recorded revenue growth for the year with revenues growing at 88 per cent — FY20 Revenue was at Rs 77 crore, versus FY19 at Rs 41 crore.

“Our focus, however, remains on the longterm plan to create unique narratives for audiences to experience and enjoy. It’s an obvious expression that, once the pandemic is over, people will be juggling between work, social and personal commitments. We hope to be a Rs-150 crore entity by 2021, with at least 100 original shows. Balaji Telefilms is a small-cap company now, and we hope that we would be a mid-cap company by 2021,” he concluded.

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