EXCLUSIVE | Divya Dixit, ALTBalaji: The next leg of India’s streaming story

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Divya Dixit, Senior Vice-President, Marketing, Analytics and Direct Revenue for India and international markets at ALTBalaji, plays a pivotal role in driving the digital content platform’s quest for leadership in the fast-growing and dynamic OTT sector.

Divya brings more than 20 years of experience which includes which  business, marketing and brand building across industries — Digital, OTT, Broadcast, Telecom, Music, and Retail.

Before joining ALTBalaji, Divya was at ZEE5, where she was part of the team that conceptualized and developed the brand ‘ZEE5 ‘and ‘ZEE5 Originals’ as well as launched the platform and multiple original shows.

Under her leadership, ALTBalaji has doubled its direct revenue YOY in 2018-19 and 2019-2020. It has also been one of the top 3 grossing OTT apps. From a content segmentation and a subscription point of view, Divya looks at expanding, acquiring, and retaining audiences through various innovations.

In this exclusive interaction with MediaBrief.com, Divya speaks about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the OTT industry, about how the OTT industry has evolved from catering to a niche crowd to now becoming the channel of mainstream content consumption, and about working to reach the crucial break-even milestone sometime next year.

Read on.

ALTBalaji has recently launched a half-yearly pack at INR 180. How has the response been thus far? 

With the new year, we at ALTBalaji, are now setting our sight on the next leg of India’s streaming story. We want to lay our focus on serving the emerging young audiences, in addition to capturing the smaller cities and towns. With affordability as one of our key drivers we want to go deeper across the under-penetrated markets in India and our pricing strategy demonstrates the same. The content pipeline for 2021 is also segmented such that it suits the diversity of taste and preferences of our viewers.

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We observed a strong uptake of digital subscriptions per day post lockdown v/s pre lockdown. The platform has over 8.5 million monthly active users, and 35 million cumulative subscribers.

Currently, ALTBalaji is adding over 20,000 to 22,000 subscriptions a day on an average, as per Q3 FY21. Additionally, we have noticed a substantial rise in the time spent on library, consuming our content across urban and rural cities

What is the core demographic of the audience you cater to, and how do you set yourself apart from your Indian and International competitors? Where are the subscribers based?

Before lockdown, a large chunk of our audience came from the metros. However, the lockdown saw a surge in subscribers from the Hindi heartlands. ALTBalaji established a clear positioning of being OTT of the masses with Hindi colloquial content for India and Hindi speaking diaspora.

With the increase in appetite to consume our diverse bouquet of originals and our shows catering to the mass audience, we have 59% of our viewership coming from the non-metros. We have a vast library of 74 Hindi originals across genres that cater to all kinds of audiences.

Our shows that have launched over 3 years since inception are still immensely popular amongst audiences and relevant even in today’s date. In addition to that, our shows are also being dubbed in regional languages like Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam among others as well as international languages like Arabic and Bhasa.  

How has the pricing strategy helped ALTBalaji expand its reach in the Bharat market?

ALTBalaji has been working towards its goals and is the first OTT platform 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 are aiming to break even in the coming financial year.

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Leaving no stone unturned in entertaining viewers all year round, ALTBalaji continues to deliver the best entertainment to its viewers at an affordable price of 0.80 paise per day and Rs. 300 for an annual subscription. The three-month subscription is priced at Rs. 100, the audience can save more with the six-month pack priced at only Rs 180.

Furthermore, ALTBalaji’s strategic alliance with payment gateways like Paytm, Amazon Pay, PayPal, and PayPoint India helped make subscription processes convenient for its consumers. Through these partnerships, ALTBalaji’s extensive library of homegrown, original premium content became even more accessible and affordable to a broader, and newer set of consumers.

Apart from its budget-friendly pricing what other strategies have ALTBalaji adopted to reach Indian audiences?

Our strategy has been different from all our counterparts as far as content creation, partnerships, or marketing are concerned. Our mindset towards reading the market early on and taking action promptly has helped us stay ahead of the industry curve. 

The year also saw consumers show an affinity for short video apps. To connect with them, we associated with short video apps like Roposo, Chingari, and Firework as a part of our strategy to amplify our objective of massifying content for Bharat at large. Being an SVOD platform, our focus is to engage with the audience and expand our reach and give them a glimpse of the diverse content we have to offer. 

Our content pipeline is customized to cater to the masses and the young of the country as well as our UI/UX is simple to navigate and adapt to.

Does a comparatively low subscription rate impact the production side of content delivery; how does a platform balance the scales?

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ALTBalaji is one of the most affordable OTT options with plans at Rs 300 a year / Rs 100 a quarter (less than Re 1 a day). The pricing has been consistent since launch and the Average Revenue Per Unit (ARPU) remains between Rs. 140 to Rs. 150 a year. Ever since our launch in 2017, we have ensured that our costs are restricted to Rs 150-Rs 160 crores per annum, out of which content cost has been around Rs 110 crore.

This is because we’ve mastered the art of making content at one third that our peers are spending. With the legacy and backing of a production house of Balaji’s stature, we know the art of creating shows without spending exorbitant amounts and compromising with quality. We hope to be Rs 150 crore entity by this year with at least 100 original shows. 

Before joining ALTBalaji you have worked with other OTT brands, and have been one of the pioneers for launching OTT brands in India, since then how has the OTT landscape changed?

Having seen many challenges in my previous endeavors, my journey at ALT has been fairly business positive and I’m sure it will continue to do so. When I started the journey OTT was the medium of entertainment for a niche crowd, however now it is becoming the channel of mainstream content. The same shows up in digital and video consumption numbers as well where the growth is double-digit YOY.

I also believe the OTT landscape has now become extremely active with multiple players venturing into regional languages and aggressive launches of Originals. SVOD share in OTT has increased from 5-6% to 28% thereby suggesting that consumer mindset is progressively adapting to paying for good content on digital platforms.

I have also seen the evolution of digital platforms from mere catchup of television shows to today’s cord-cutting and migration to OTT for sports, originals, movies, music, etc. According to a recent report by PwC, the OTT market is set to grow at a rate of 22 percent to reach INR 12,000 crore in the next four years.

The soon-to-arrive 5G networks will only work as a shot in the arm for OTT platforms to scale further heights. Digital is an ever-evolving medium and when it comes to OTT players, competition across the industry is soaring high with everyone trying to secure their places in the minds of consumers. 

What are the challenges OTT platforms face in India in terms of content, production, and promotion?

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OTT has created new opportunities for distributing content to viewers across geographies. On the other side, viewers have their own choice of choosing the programs and the flexibility of when, how, and where to watch their favorite content. Keeping content discovery on priority, OTT platforms need to provide fresh, unique, relatable content and meet the ever-increasing demands of the consumers; also an average consumer will not pay for more than 2.5 OTT apps as per the latest research report, thereby making the competition amongst OTT landscape fierce.

The challenge for monetization on AVOD remains due to the lack of third party currency like BARC and SVOD needs the support of a growing consumer mindset to pay for the content. Further digitization in hinterlands/media dark areas and 5G bandwidth is much required for buffer-free viewing to the masses of the country.

AT ALTBalaji, our focus remains on our long-term plan of creating unique narratives and relatable Indian originals for the masses. We are concentrating on consumer segmentation behavior, understanding how to retain the customers better, and working on onboarding the new segment that has just been acquainted with the internet.

What are ALTBalaji’s plans for business expansion? Any plans to foray into original movies?

No. We are not looking at acquiring movies like our counterparts since we truly believe in the content stickiness of our originals and fiction franchises that help us drive the user base predominantly. SVOD is a more sustainable model and it is heartening to see that Indian consumers are paying for OTT content.  

We are aggressively focusing on the emerging youth from smaller towns and developing new concepts for our target audience aged 20-40 years. Also, we are making sure our subscribers are retained for the long term, through a pool of immersive content, retention and engagement strategies.

Trends we should look out for in the Indian OTT space in 2021? 

OTT content consumption has witnessed steady growth throughout, and it will continue to do so, on its own. Affordable smartphones have revolutionized the OTT video streaming landscape in our country, with over 40 OTT platforms serving the OTT landscape. 2021 will see the rise of some exciting new OTT technologies, along with some out of the box content. It’ll be interesting to see how 2021 plays out after unprecedented shifts over the past year. 

Even the marketing trends have changed to digital heavy strategies post the pandemic induced lockdown. It is interesting how marketers across industries depend on digital, AI, and personalization for consumer engagements. Also, there will be a rise in gamification, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality. To conclude, we could say since evolution is never easy nor kind, we will see many mergers, acquisitions, co-productions, and even fold up as business models get explored.

Your thoughts, please