Interview: There is nothing called regional anymore; it’s just different languages: Vikram Malhotra, Abundantia Entertainment

Vikram Malhotra Abundantia Entertainment

Founder & CEO of Abundantia Entertainment, Vikram Malhotra shares his two cents on what it takes to create engaging content on digital and why India is ready to pay for good storytelling.

Abundantia Entertainment is riding high on its digital success with Breathe starring R Madhavan and is set to realize its season 2 soon. Recently it also made news when Amazon Prime Video announced ‘The End’ also marks the digital debut of Khiladi Akshay Kumar – to be produced by Abundantia Entertainment.

There is an active pipeline of premium digital content under development at Abundantia including the series adaptation of the bestseller ‘The Men Who Killed Gandhi’.

From producing Bollywood hits like Baby and Airlift to foraying into the digital world, Vikram Malhotra, Founder & CEO, Abundantia Entertainment talks about the journey so far, Indian OTT market, need for censorship on digital and much more.

Excerpts:

The growth of Abundantia Entertainment in the digital space

Abundantia is a company which is created on two important building blocks. One is that we believe that we are a company that listens very closely to what our audience is saying and equally not saying, which means that we have our ear to the ground, we pay attention to the trends and preferences that our audience is depicting, especially the younger audience.

This audience is going to move on to personalized consumption and will, therefore, seek to align themselves in a very similar manner, as to how the western world had taken to the whole streaming business & the audio/video content.

Second building block which leads us to become a pioneer in the digital space was the fact that we pride ourselves on creating stories and partnering with storytellers which are made for a progressive audience. Accordingly, we spent a couple of years understanding the whole world, understanding what audiences like, their dislikes, what are the stories that’ll work or not work. But most importantly we realized how the world of storytelling in the digital industry, was completely different from how storytelling works in the film medium.

Taking these learnings, generated over these few years, we created our first show which is ‘Breathe’.

Nearly 40% of Breathe’s viewers were outside of India.

This gave us the confidence to invest more, build more to the extent that digital is now the new state business for Abunduntia. Breathe Season 2 is already in production and hopefully in a more impactful way applying the cast with Amit Sadh.

Subsequently, we increased our mission to create content, to create stories that are not just Indian at heart but has universal emotions in that and therefore can travel the globe. ‘The End’ is one such show, which we announced recently featuring Akshay Kumar on Amazon Prime Video. There are multiple shows that Abunduntia in a very short span of time will turn very strong learnings and fundamental in this business has now put in development in production. It’s been an extensive but exciting journey so far.

What has kept the liaison with Amazon Prime Video intact till date and are you in talks with other OTT platforms as well?

Absolutely, you know Amazon is an extremely empowering and liberating partner in this journey. Apart from doing an aggressive international platform player, I think Amazon also gets us as creative, they get our sensibility, they get the world that we try to create show after show. The journey’s been fantastic, I think it’s been one of mutual respect and trust and if you see there was Breathe, then there’ll be ‘The End’ and that speaks volumes about how comfortable we are with each other. Yes, Abunduntia is working with other platforms as well and I’m not at liberty to disclose the details but we will go where our story find their best homes.

What are the elements in mind that you keep while creating certain kind of content for certain kind of platform and how does it differentiate itself from the abundance of content that goes online?

See we are very clear in our vision for the digital world, that we will operate in the premium storytelling phase, which means that we will work with platforms that cater to the mid to the premium end of the segment.

What we look for, in platforms most importantly is a wavelength match of creative flexibility, everything else follows.

Our ability to add value to the platform & the audience and the platform’s ability to add value to our story and storytelling, that’s of primary and paramount importance. Outside of that you know, how much can a platform push our story and how big can they make it, how well can they engage their audiences with it and you know Amazon has only delivered higher than expectations than all these platforms.

With A-list Bollywood stars venturing into the digital age, do you think digital is truly taking up the traditional age of cinema & TV and what are it’s implications, if you may forsee some?

In my opinion, the growth of digital and streaming content in India is not going to come at the expense of any other form of content. We have such a vast content consuming population, in entertainment, both in Audio & Video and Audio form in India is of such integral importance, that every life of Indian, that pretty much every content format a platform level we are underpenetrated, so there’s room for significant growth. If you look at last year itself, which is the introduction of streaming and digital in India and has also been one of the best years of Box Office has seen in a really long time.

Which leads me to the opinion that I’m sharing with you that the growth of digital in India is going to be implemental and additive to the overall entertainment environment in India.

Because there is so much potential for even existing platforms and mediums to grow. If you juxtapose this to the falling data tariff, today the data tariff is among the lowest on a relative basis in the world. Which effectively means that the audience can depict different consumer behavior across different platforms. So, they will go to theaters to watch movies with friends, family and peer groups, they will sit and consume general entertainment, in sports content at comfort of their home, then the same audience especially the ones that consume streaming content, when they want, where they want and how they want, on personal devices with their headphones plugged in and while they’re on the go, while they’re in colleges, at work. I think it’s going to be a brilliantly positive incremental effect in India that you’re going to witness.

A-list Bollywood stars are venturing into the digital space is the newest trend. Your say on it?

We brought in Madhavan in Breathe, then we brought in Abhishekh Bachchan in Season 2. Then I think it’s probably the only example in the world. That a reigning movie superstar has come on board for a premium Original Series. For the last few months, I’ve been struggling to think of an example where a reigning superstar, let’s say in Hollywood are coming on a long-form series.

Movie stars getting on to streaming platforms will provide a great amount of familiarity and reassurance to those Indians who have yet not subscribed to any of these platforms.

It could be cost reasons, it could be inertia, it could just be lack of awareness but with a superstar like Akshay Kumar coming on board when you understand that you’re going to be seeing wonderful stories which are to apply only on a certain platform, it reassureS you to make the choice towards the platform. So, I see this as a very strong development, not just for a particular platform but in getting a lot of non-users, or those who still haven’t switched on to these mediums, to come on to these platforms. I see it as a positive trend and I am happy that we are using this trend.

Also Read: #ExpertOpinion: Do theaters feel the heat of the OTT wave?

Do you think that the Indian audience is ready for subscription-based OTT Entertainment, at this point of time? Do you think superstars coming on board will lure the audience to pay for entertainment?

Indians across products & services (I’m not just talking about just the entertainment) Indians will pay and dip into their wallet if they see the value for their time and money. Many years ago there was a popular conception that Indians will not buy. But today India is among the biggest online shopping communities of the world. Digital wallets and digital currencies have become the default mechanism for the common man. Similarly, Indians pay for content and subscribe provided you give them stories and value for their time and money.

Please put the spotlight on two new verticals Psyche and Filter? What need gaps are they filling?

Abundantia has three business streams. One is our mainstay and our main Motion Pictures business, second is the digital one and then we identified the third area – the growth value area which is worked and content focused on certain genres in an audience segment.

As the market has matured and the consumer segment has evolved the demand for specific genre based content is set-to grow proportionally. Accordingly, we have created a vertical segment of such content and launched – Psyche (which will create content for horror and paranormal nature) and Filter (for young adults and gen z). These are two segments which we see as being distinctly addressable and requiring a specific skill set of storytelling and story crafting which is unique to both these segments and we hope to launch several such verticals in Abundantia.

Regional is buzzing around. How is Abundantia heading towards it?

The definition of regional content is changing with the advent of digital. You sit in the comfort of your homes and watch Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese and American shows all in different languages where you rely on your understanding and the subtitles. Similarly, you could be watching a Malayalam film or a Marathi film-it’s just that access has changed. So there is nothing called regional anymore. It’s just different languages.

We will get into that provided we get the right content particular language or region which worked for a larger region. Similarly, in movies, we will get into regional space if we see that the story is compelling enough. There is no plan of expanding in regional just for the geographical expansion of Abundantia, we follow where the demand for such stories exists.

In November 2018, Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) released its ‘Code of best practices for Online Curated Content Providers.’ As a creator contributing to the OTT community, do you think self-regulation and censorship on digital are considerable?

Today the control and consumption of content are entirely in the hands of the consumer. Regulation norms will be entirely different. Let’s be fair to both, content platforms and creators on one side and regulatory on the other side and just say that it’s been only two years that this medium has really come into its own. I think there is going to be some time before it stabilizes and the right regulatory and governance norms come on board. A lot of the platforms have taken up and also Amazon Prime has set up self-governing codes of conduct.

Nobody will consume content of streaming nature on OTT platform for any reason other than the fact that they see good value for their time and money spent in the form of stories.

Which means that if any content creator or platform thinks that they are going to get subscribers or advertisers or traction because of the content of sexual or aggressive, violent nature- that is the very short-sighted approach. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world and also not in India.

Lastly, please share what is Abundantia Entertainment’s roadmap ahead in 2019 and shows in pipeline?

We aim to be the preferred content partners for not just the storytellers but also for content aggregators an distributors. We would like to be India’s premier content destination across all sizes and shapes of content from three minutes to 3 seasons and beyond.

2019-20 is set to be very exciting and a busy year for Abundantia. We will be working on our recurring shows in the digital space and a lot more development in the vertical space and storytelling across the world.


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