Interview: Before Jio we had less than 50 million video consuming audiences: Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment

ShemarooMe strategy

Hiren Gada, Shemaroo Entertainment on ShemarooMe’s strategy of grabbing a pie of the Indian OTT sector.

Investment in Video Content increased to ~$4-5 Bn in 2017 which is 14% higher than their investment in 2016 (source) and without doubt OTT has an important role to play in it. Joining the club is ShemarooMe with Bollywood, Gujarati, Devotion, Punjabi & Kids content.

Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment shares what lies ahead for ShemarooMe in thr competitive Indian OTT market.

From cassettes and CDs to an OTT platform, how are you translating your offline audience and following into a digital footprint?

Basically, we have always tried to remain ahead of the technology or at least the driver of the technology adoption as you said right from cassettes, DVDs, we were the first to launch any of these things, we were among the first ones to partner with YouTube in India and Pelcos. So, in that sense being in step with the technology and using technology as a driver for growth has been our model from the beginning. In that sense it is a very natural extension of the business for us and now that there’s a flat growth in the digital video-consuming audiences, we launched OTT.

Let us know about the timing of OTT’s launch. Why now?

We had about two to three insights leading us to this decision. One was the rapid growth in digital video audiences. Before Jio, we had literally less than 50 million video consuming audiences and in two and a half years that number has grown to 250-300 million.

If we look at projections from most of the industry experts, video consumption is expected to rise to 500 million in a 3-year period and 700-800 million in a 5-year period. In that sense, a huge audience base is now moving to this and is available for this. Secondly, as the numbers grow there is an opportunity to segment the consumer deeper and serve different deals, which in a way matches well with our content strength. Thirdly, with so many of the present players, we saw a lot of need gaps in the way consumers are consuming audio-visual content and what is available. We thought that there are opportunities to fill out those need gaps and now is a good time to fill it and build audiences around that.

The number of OTT platforms in India is around 40. What is Shemaroo’s USP in this space?

As the audiences are growing, India is not a homogeneous market it’s a heterogeneous market. We are not like USA, we are more like Europe, we are like 22-23 countries in one. Therefore, there are varying consumer needs and many of them are currently being underserved or are not at all being served.

Our approach overall has been to segment the consumers based on tastes & preferences, more importantly, based on their audio-visual needs. We have segmented Bollywood into Bollywood Classics and Bollywood Plus. There’s classic and contemporary content and each of them is separately priced as separate packs, so you can subscribe to Classics or Plus individually. Overall we have more than 3000 hours of video content. So we have taken that as an important consumer segment. Within regional, we have started with Gujarati and Punjabi, then we would be adding a few more languages.

Keeping the competition in mind, what kind of audience profile are you targeting and which are the markets you’ll be focussing on?

Our content is for mass consumption and we are therefore trying to create an environment where we can unabashedly consume what we are familiar with and what we like and bring in familiar territory. To give you a different example, you can have Pizza and Pasta but at the end of the day you’ll come and have Dal Chawal. So, it’s content that consumers love to consume over and over again and not get drowned in the whole new “new” phenomena.

Also Read: Interview: Brand messaging will be consumed in bite-sized micro-videos: Zameer Kochar, JetPrivilege

Can you throw some light on what kind of distribution deals are in place to take Shemaroo’s content to every nook and corner of the country?

I cannot give out any names yet because many of them are still in the integration or the closure stage. At a broad level, we are working with Pelcos, the Television distributors (DTH & Cabel), the device ecosystem, e-commerce ecosystem, and international partners. Virtually, the idea is that as many digital platforms as possible because the content is created for mass consumption and being able to make it available, as easily accessible to the consumer as possible, is the real focus.

Originals is the new buzzword in town. What is your take on it? What is your content strategy like, when it comes to Originals?

Currently, Originals is defined as fiction, web series, that doesn’t fit into the strategy, but we created a whole lot of non-fiction content. We have more than 100 hours of Classic Cinema and we created very different kinds of shows like Cinema Ka Safar, which is a 22-episode anthology of Bollywood, anchored by Renuka Shahane.

Similarly, the different shows we created like Pehli Baar about people’s firsts, they are highly deeply researched. There is content that we’ve created around this, then there are 300-400 devotional content hours of content that we create every year. There’s a lot of creation happening but not in the way as people understand it or perceive today as web series, fiction and that type of content, that’s not something that fits into our current strategy.

When we talk about devotional content, it is something that has not been tapped by many players in OTT. Are you confident that it would work on the platform?

India is a highly devotional country and we have multi-phased content, more than 3000 hours have been created across Bhajans, Aartis, documentaries, travelogues, online darshan of various shrines etc. Additionally, we have more than seven shrines covering live footage. We created a lot of special content around Kumbh Mela.

We have a very active consumption, active fan base who loves to consume devotional content. We know that there is a certain audience for this. “How this will scale, etc?” Only time will tell us. We feel that it is a unique proposition, we have a leadership position and as far as the consumer is concerned, it is like addressing one more need of the consumers.

Censorship on OTT platforms is one of the most discussed topic. Will Shemaroo be adhering to TRAI Guidelines of censorship?

At the core, our content is films and films are all censored, so that for us is not a challenge. Our content is essentially censored content and we are not creating fiction, we are mainly creating non-fiction like interviews but we are co-operative with the censorship guidelines and in fact, we are fully compliant with that.

In addition to video penetration on mobiles, Mass TV is catching up. How are you planning to cater to this audience?

The device ecosystem includes multiple devices like mobile devices, Smart TV, Set Top box device, fire stick and we would definitely work with all the major players. Right now we have Android and iOS and web version but we are already testing other television based platforms like fire stick and Apple TV, etc. So, all of that is a part of the plan for us.