When Zee Entertainment launched its online streaming platform, Ditto TV, in 2012, it was way ahead of its time. With data penetration in its infancy, the service obviously failed to create an impact. However, when broadband penetration improved and a plethora of media companies, both Indian and global launched their over-the-top (OTT) service, Zee decided to play a wait and watch game. All that they did was offer catch-up television on their platform, OZee. In fact, Zee Entertainment MD Punit Goenka has always been sceptical about offering content free. The home-grown media conglomerate earlier this week let out its digital strategy with the launch of Zee 5. The company, as expected, has launched a freemium model where a large percentage of the content would be behind the pay wall. The new platform, says Amit Goenka, CEO, Zee International and Zee5 Global, is based on learnings from the past as well as the business models of the current breed of OTT platforms. "We have built the platform from scratch to give today's users the experience they are looking for," he says. Excerpts from an interview with Business Today's Ajita Shashidhar.
What have you learnt from past experiences?
People want content in their language and not just English. Content discovery is a big challenge today. Finding content of your interest is difficult, but once it's in your language it's far easier. We are serving content in 12 languages, the maximum any platform has today. The interface is customised and localised. Everyday, there are new users coming on to the platform, who have never experienced OTT platforms before and they are most comfortable in their own language.
So, ours is a freemium model where lot of content would be catch-up and free and, of course, we have premium content which will be our original series, international content and Hollywood. We are bringing in best of Chinese, Korean, Turkish and Eastern European content. It's not just soaps and movies, we have kids content and lifestyle content too. We have almost 100,000 hours of content at launch and we will be adding on a daily basis 50 hours of additional content.
Do you have exclusive content deals with studios?
We are not doing exclusive deals with studios, we want to pick the best of content for our audience, we are not putting in 1000 movies for the sake of putting in 1000 movies. So, we are cherry-picking the content. We experiment with content in the A-ward platform and depending on the usage and engagement we receive we decide what to put behind the pay wall. You may not want to watch what I want to watch, so we first take consumer feedback.
Can you tell us about your original shows?
At launch we will have six original shows, we also have short format 10-minute episodes. Next year we will have around 100 original shows. We have three Hindi short shows, three Hindi telefilms and one show each in Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam and Bangla. We would be doing a show in each of these six languages every month. We have a show called Lockdown which is a reality show produced by musician, Badshah, Zero Kilometres starring Naseeruddin Shah, which is on drug trafficking. We are going across genres. We are doing a biopic on Sunny Leone.
How is Zee 5 different from the existing OTT platforms?
We have separated the OTT team from our TV content team from day one. This team has never done TV content. They are young, talented people who have primarily done only digital content.
Our emphasis is on original content when it comes to premium offering apart from cherry-picked international content. This content is not only one language, we are taking it across 12 languages. So, if I do a Sunny Leone biopic, it will be across 12 languages. You can watch it in the language of your choice. It's not just a Hindi show dubbed in other languages, but also vice-versa. Even a Tamil original would be dubbed in Hindi.
We have international shows like The Young Pope, Pablo Eskobar, dubbed in six languages.
Most OTT platforms are spending big amounts (Rs 1-2 crore per episode) of money on original content. Are your shows as expensive?
These are finite series unlike television series which go on and on, so you have to obviously curb costs there, but in this case you want high quality and the richness to come out because you are competing with the likes of Netflix and Amazon who are spending that kind of money. Of course, we are not spending their kind of money, but we will definitely make sure that the quality is up there.
Do you agree that some of these platforms are spending mindlessly?
I won't say its mindless, as everybody is trying to understand what is going to work in this market, Eventually things will settle down as they understand the kind of content that is working and what the audience wants. Today, OTT platforms are going to Bollywood producers to produce shows for them and those guys are charging an arm and leg. Most of the international platforms are used to spending that kind of money even globally. We know the economics as we have been here. We know we can find producers of digital content, we are not going to Bollywood producers to produce shows.
How long do you think it will take for subscription-led OTT models to flourish in India?
Subscription is definitely the way to go. People keep saying that the Indian consumers are not used to paying, but they have been paying Rs 200-Rs 250 to the cable operator every month. Indian consumer is used to paying for content. So, if the pricing is right, the content is good, they will pay for it.
Every second day one gets to hear about the launch of a new OTT platform, is consolidation on the cards?
Consolidation will obviously happen in a market which has so many players. You have already started seeing early signs of that where Reliance has taken a large percentage in Alt Balaji.
Are you open to acquisitions?
We are always open. There are no such plans now, but we are open .
What kind of a subscriber base are you looking at by the end of one year?
We have not really put down numbers yet, its more about getting the audience to start engaging. For us the focus right now would be on how many people watch, how long they watch, what's the engagement with the content, and not worry too much about subscription numbers to begin with.
How important is it for a broadcaster to have an OTT platform?
We broadcast in 173 countries, so a digital presence becomes more relevant for us as we are present in countries where chord cutting is rampamt. If we don't have this offering we will lose it. Going forward, this business is the future. The next big growth for us will come from digital.