Digital entertainment is no longer about just offering videos online. The focus has shifted to original content. That’s how Netflix Inc. turned more valuable than a traditional media giant like Walt Disney Co.
In India, the likes of Alt Balaji, TVF and Voot are vying in a market that, according to an EY report, will be bigger than nation’s film industry—the largest in the world—in two years. They are up against global rivals like Netflix, which launched in the country in 2016, and Amazon Prime. Most of them expect to eventually move to a subscription model, which as of now contributes a small part of their revenue.
Digital subscription income rose 50 percent to Rs 390 crore in 2017, according to EY. And it’s expected to hit Rs 2,010 crore by 2020. With data charges at their lowest ever, users have started consuming content behind paywalls, according to the report.
Alt Balaji has always been subscription-based, charging users Rs 300 a year. Voot and TVF, on the other hand, are free and earn revenue by collaborating with brands and through advertisements.
TVF, or The Viral Fever, which launched in 2012, will eventually move to subscription, but not any time soon, according to its Chief Creative Officer Sameer Saxena. “People are looking to collaborate with us. So, it’s basically them coming to us with briefs of what they think they would want to make and then we get back to them with a solution of what we think works for a brand like theirs,” he said.
The company has around 200 scripts that it can work on. It either gets a partner before a script is executed or brands come on board after production is completed. TVF plans to launch its latest original series, Yeh Meri Family, by mid-June. The show, being launched by TVF exclusively, will probably attract brand partners at a later stage, Saxena said.
Voot, owned by Viacom18, marries television with online engagement. In its reality singing contest Rising Star, contestants stay in the game based on a level of engagement with users on Voot. Soon, some of its content will also move behind a paywall.
“We started Voot as an ad-supported service. But, this year, we are moving towards adding a premium layer to the content, which would be subscription-driven,” said Monika Shergill, content head at Voot. “We have Voot kids, which currently rests within the main Voot environment, but it’s the number one online destination for children in India. Later this year, we will be launching a subscription-based service for Voot kids as well.”
With attention shifting from traditional mediums to online platforms, actors are now more amenable to try their hand at it.
“When we started with ALT in April 2017, we approached the big names in the motion pictures industry. Not all of them were very forthcoming with the idea,” said Manav Sethi, chief marketing officer at Alt Balaji. They weren’t sure if they had what it took to execute and make it big, he said. “But, we have been able to break all those notions in the last one-and-a-half years.”
Over the past couple of years, the company has managed to cast major league actors like Nimrat Kaur and Rajkumar Rao in shows that have become commercially successful.