Balaji Telefilms CEO: ALTBalaji will be bigger than both our TV and movie businesses in the next few years

ALTBalaji, the new on demand service from Balaji Telefilms

Balaji Telefilms, a giant of the Indian entertainment industry, has recently launched an OTT platform ALTBalaji, which will offer 250+ hours of original, exclusive content to its subscribers.

It has also partnered with Airtel Payments Bank to provide wallet services via Airtel Money, so that their customers can use a convenient digital payment option for content subscription.

The Drum spoke to Sameer Nair, who serves as Group CEO of Balaji Telefilms, about Balaji Telefilm's latest partnerships and plans.

How has OTT changed the way for video in India?

In India, OTT platforms are still at a nascent stage. However, with so many players entering the space, consumers are benefiting immensely as there is a plethora of content available for consumers to watch.

According to a Frost Sullivan report, active video subscribers are going to increase to 105 million by 2020, from the current 66 million. India is now a mobile-first market with increased usage of smartphones. There is the rollout of 4G and 3G internet services in India and at low rates or free of cost. With availability of content, and consumers now having internet and a medium to watch it, consumption of video has surged through various players. Video consumption is further expected to increase, giving way for more interesting video content.

Tell us about your latest partnerships with Diagnal and Xstream. Why do you think there is a need for such partnerships?

ALTBalaji is developed, designed, and integrated by Diagnal, whereas Xstream’s cloud based video management system, Xstream MediaMaker, will be driving the platform. We aim to be a game changer in the global entertainment space, starting with India, the second biggest and fastest growing mobile market. Consumers are evolving aided by growing mobile reach; their requirements are becoming niche and expectations are increasing. Our partnerships with players like Diagnal and Xstream will bring in the best of technology and scalability together. When we collaborate with other companies, it gives us an insight into their target groups. This ultimately helps us to market our content and our platform more effectively to these partners’ consumers.

Balaji also partnered for carrier billing with a mobile payments company Fortumo and now with Airtel. Why did you opt for this partnership? Do you think demonetisation has led the way for these wallet payment companies?

For ALTBalaji, creating better consumer experiences is one of the key business objectives. Carrier billing is one such initiative for frictionless platform-consumer relationships. We entered in a partnership with Fortumoto to enable and strengthen a seamless payment experience on ALTBalaji using their reach and telecom relationships. Fortumo’s carrier billing platform covers around 870 million active connections across various telecom networks.

While there are already more than 250 million smartphone owners in India, less than 25 million people in the country have a credit card. This gives players like us a 10-time bigger payment reach in India and overseas. Simultaneously, ensuring people have hassle-free and convenient access to our content.

Mobile wallets have been present in India for some time now. However, they did witness a steep growth because of demonetization. Considered an alternative to cash or money, mobile wallets are an important avenue as they allow consumers to make payments quickly and access our offerings with ease. Subscribers also get numerous benefits by using mobile wallets. For example, our subscribers can avail 25% cashback while paying for the service using MobiKwik wallet.

What are your other expansion plans for Balaji?

Balaji Telefilms plans to invest up to Rs. 400 crore in ALTBalaji, which will offer original, exclusive content to its subscribers. Our focus is on this subscription video on demand platform because it is going to be a genuine B2C business for us. We believe ALTBalaji to be bigger than both our TV and movies businesses in the next few years. This is because about 25 million cable and satellite audiences (of the 165 million India C&S homes) have lapsed with the already available content on television. Our investments will ensure that ALTBalaji becomes a mainstream service, while we look at interesting concepts and offer unique content to our subscribers.

There has been a paradigm shift in the taste of Indian audience especially among youths who want more contemporary and relatable content. How well do you think Balaji Films has been able to keep up with it?

There is a huge underserved audience in India, primarily comprising of youth, which wants to see original and exclusive content. For Balaji Telefilms, we view this as a significant opportunity to offer them content through digital platforms. The launch of ALTBalaji is a step towards this vision. ALTBalaji will target the youth, an important target group, by providing original and exclusive content. We will introduce 32 web series a year, each comprising 10 to 15 episodes, running anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes each. This will make us the largest provider of original exclusive content on digital by volume. Out of 32 shows, six will be regional web shows. With such interesting content lined up, we are confident that ALTBalaji will emerge as the preferred original content viewing platform of the youth.

You have been at the forefront as a change bearer for the Indian entertainment industry. Do you think it all has worked out for the best? What steps can still be taken to improve our entertainment industry?

The Indian entertainment industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. After Hollywood and China, India is the third biggest entertainment industry in the world. At Balaji, we are fortunate that we create content for all three mediums; television, films and now digital, giving us an innate understanding of this diverse, mass audience. Data, and the capability to transform that data into actionable insights, offers us tools of great scope and power to further refine our content decisions. However, sharp, enticing and engaging content will be the needle mover and the game changer.

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