Vidnet 2019 : A success story looking at all the aspects of OTT industry

Organised by Indiantelevision dot com, the fourth edition of Vidnet was a successful one that quite aptly looked into the golden era of Indian entertainment. The first day of the two-day-long video and content conclave, Vidnet saw noted names from the digital video industry coming together and highlighting the challenges and opportunities that the space is dealing with right now.
Anil Wanvari
The summit on 3 October at Sahara Star, Mumbai, hosted a number of panel discussions and fireside chats to present an in depth image of the functioning of the video ecosystem, parallely in ‘Creator’s Track’ and ‘Business and Tech Track’. The day began with founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari addressing the audience, with a succinct report of the challenges and prospects that the current OTT ecosystem is facing. ranging from getting users to subscribe to preventing piracy. He urged those present in the audience to work on more massy content to create and support robust businesses for the future. The ‘Business and Tech Track’ saw some important panel discussions throughout the day besides few fireside chats and presentations. The first panel ‘Making Indian Entertainment Great’, highlighted on some of the constraints that shroud the video industry, ranging from the technological to the artistic aspects of the business. Gracing the panel were Zee5 India head-AVOD, SEO, news & stories Yogesh Manwani, Sony Pictures Networks India business head-digital Uday Sodhi, Viacom18 business head-digital AVOD ventures Akash Banerji, Viu India country head Vishal Maheshwari, Balaji Telefilms group COO and Alt Balaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya, HOOQ India and managing director Zulfiqar Khan. The session was moderated by Nepa India’s managing director Esha Nagar. Maheshwari opined, “The future is looking very exciting due to the penetration of smartphones and cheaper data. We’re going to see more and more opportunities and challenges in the future.” Khan revealed that his company is shifting focus to more AI-led content and ventures, hoping to be the first platform to have fully machine-dubbed localisation of content. Banerjee noted, “OTT has become mainstream now. It is not only for metros and males. It is now targeted at regional audience, it is also for women. “When you are looking at segmentation of consumer, look at how many of them are new vs repeat. To be able to drive value from each of these sets of content, what should be your strategy in terms of content & tech; will help you drive higher value.” Following this was a presentation by Think Analytics SVP Richard Dowling on “The Power of Personalised Search and Recommendations.” Dowling shared a few case studies from his firm as he talked about how personalised content can help in gathering better audience. Next on the list was another panel discussion on ‘Captive Audience of the Telecom Trace’ between ZEE5 Global chief business officer Archana Anand, IndiaCast Media Distribution group CEO Anuj Gandhi, Apalya Technologies founder and CEO Vamshi Reddy, Lionsgate MD south asia Rohit Jain, Shemaroo Entertainment COO digital Zubin Dubash, and Hungama Digital COO Siddhartha Roy, moderated by Elara Capital VP – research analyst (media) Karan Taurani. The panel unanimously agreed that getting associated with telcos can help OTT platforms in getting more audience, however, the challenge of who owns the consumer will remain for the foreseeable future. “I don’t believe there is a better platform than telcos. Direct carrier billings allow the consumers to stay confident. It also allows us the marketing might. They really help us find our audiences,” Anand said. Reddy also noted, “Telcos bring in a universal and seamless experience across content. The consumer doesn’t have to go to 10 platforms and enjoy the experience. Eventually it should evolve into a payment mechanism.” Zubin Dubash noted that this association between platforms and telcos is going to go on as the core of this partnership for telcos is not to own the content but to increase the guzzling of mobile data. Said he,”Telco does have a lot of traction because they are driving the numbers. We are seeing a lot of sampling and consumption of our content happening on telco platforms. This is one service that pushes platform loyalty.” After this session, NAGRA product line management director Diroshan Ratnarajah gave an interesting presentation on “Combating OTT Streaming Piracy”. He outlined some pressing and pertinent problems that exist in the online video space, which can impact the monetisation as well as content discovery process on streaming platforms. He highlighted that fighting piracy will require a joint effort from all the players in the industry and development of robust, scalable, and high-performance security platforms. The proceedings of the day were taken forward by a panel of ZEE5 India head technology Tushar Vohra, Hoichoi TV technology head Aloke Majumder, ErosNow CTO Lokesh Chauhan, NAGRA product line management director Diroshan Ratnarajah, and MX Player chief of product, tech and operations Vivek Jain, moderated by Castle Media CEO Ru Ediriwira. They discussed about ‘The Challenge of Content Protection’ in the new age media scenario. The panel agreed that there is a need for the whole ecosystem to come together to fight the menace of piracy as it might only increase with robust changes happening in the system. They also talked about the importance of fingerprinting of content. Vohra said, “We need to get together because the lines are really blurring. As now there are new business models, content producers are being paid on the basis of number of streams and number of minutes watched. Fingerprinting is extremely important. It makes it easy to find the source of the piracy. It can help us identify which user is trying to pirate a piece of content.” Jain insisted that enforcement of piracy laws in India needs improvement so that not only can pirated content be identified easily but also pulled down immediately. Post-lunch, fireside chat between Wanvari and Viacom18 Digital Ventures COO Gourav Rakshit found the duo discussing how the nature of the content in India is evolving with the changing audience sensibilities. “The nature of content we are going to produce and put on these platforms is going to be transformed based on the sensibilities of the user,” added he. “Every platform needs to have certain centrality in content. Even for Voot Kids, we are looking to engage and not replace education.”  The following panel discussion on ‘Fine-tuning Models of Monetisation and Consumer Engagement’. The panel consisted of Vimmi co-founder and co-CEO Eitan Koter, ALTBalaji SVP and head marketing Divya Dixit, Google industry head-media and entertainment Sandeep Ramesh, MX Player SVP and revenue head Virat Jit Singh, Merkle Sokrati SVP Sampath Rengacheri, and myNK co-founder Deepak Jayaram, along with moderator by PwC India partner and advisory leader entertainment, media, and sports Raman Kalra. The panel discussed the different opportunities and challenges that AVOD and SVOD mode of subscriptions come with and what role does technology, content, and telcos play in the system. This panel also indicated that a massy approach to content generation will help in driving better revenues. “It is going to be a very vibrant OTT space in India like TV. There isn’t going to be a winner-takes-all scenario,” mentioned Ramesh. Next in line was a fireside chat between Amazon Prime Video head of India originals Aparna Purohit and moderator The Linus Adventures founder and chief evangelist Sunil Lulla who talked about how Amazon Prime India is working towards improving content on the platform. Purohit shared that it is the best time for writers as well as actors and directors to be in the industry as not just Prime but all other platforms are looking for good stories to be told. It was followed by a short Q&A session with the cast of MX Original series, produced by Applause, Hello Mini—Gaurav Chopra and Anuja Joshi. The duo not only talked about the show but also unveiled its official trailer. “I am always chasing good stories. Stories that will travel the world but are really deeply rooted in our soil. “In addition to Hindi content, we are now developing content in 10 different languages. For us, everything is customer backward,” quoted Purohit. The day ended with a screening of The Hitler Chronicles: Blueprint for Dictators, The Bisexuals, which were first telecast on Hulu, by myNK co-founder Deepak Jayaram. Parallely in the ‘Creators Track’, some of the finest creators, writers, and directors from the OTT spoke on many important topics like how to write good stories and how to make them travel beyond national boundaries. Wanvari in his opening remarks said, “India’s video ecosystem had never been so exciting in the last two decades. Similar excitement was seen during the satellite boom period in the early 90s. With OTT today, a similar phenomenon is happening where lot of Bollywood professionals are making content for OTT just as how the industry created content for satellite channels . I believe that the content boom has still not hit India and we are at the beginning of content boom on OTT platforms. With OTT coming into the picture, there will be more opportunities for content creators in our country.” The first panel discussion of the day was around “Unlocking a Story’s Potential” between Zee Studio Originals VP creative and head Ashima Avasthi, MX Player chief content officer Gautam Talwar, BBC Studios business head Sameer Gogate and Vista India CEO Rajiv Raghunathan. The session was moderated by Bodhitree Multimedia co-founder and director Mautik Tolia. Discussing the importance of localisation, synopses, subtitling, dubbing, and visuals in helping subscribers discover and enjoy stories they love, the panel emphasised on ways to aggregate content on OTT. Raghunathan said, “OTT is the most exciting thing that happened to us. The platforms are evolving every day. Some OTT players have identified certain niche segment which is working well for them while other players are still figuring out what will work for them.” Avasthi noted that there can’t be a better time for content makers than today. Sharing her strategy for the OTT platform she said, “The mantra is to look into the stories and develop something which has strong character. The stories or content does well is only because of the character. Audiences tend to forget story or plot of the show but they remember the characters which they like. So, we focus on stories which are very character-centric. Even on OTT, the advantage is that we are able to bring our created characters to the larger audience.” The panelists also spoke about the initiatives taken by them towards localised content. They discussed how, with OTT, catering to specific TG has become easy and focused. They also informed that acceptance of fiction format has also taken up in our country via OTT platforms. Following this panel discussion, “Empowering the Creative Vision” had Friday Filmworks head-digital content and IP Devendra Deshpande, Yoodlee Films producer and Saregama India VP films and TV Siddharth Anand Kumar, and Ellipses Entertainment managing partner Tanuj Garg, in discussion with moderator Film Companion’s Sucharita Tyagi, discussing how streaming platforms are backing storytellers in translating their vision on the screen. They elaborated on the key role the platforms play in identifying and promoting content that resonates with the audience. “The New Creators’ Breed” panel between TVF global head-business and content Rahul Sarangi, Swastik Productions and One Life Studios producer and managing director Rahul Kumar Tewary, BToS Productions partner and independent director Angshuman Ghosh, Monozygotic Solutions co-founder Rajiv Laxman, WPP national business head-motion content group India, and Rose Audio Visuals director Goldie Behl, moderated by WWM Content Studio VP Vidyut Patra. The panelists shared their thoughts on how the new-age creators are transforming the way Indian audiences consume content. They elaborated that OTT platforms are chasing content creators for two reasons; one is to acquire and retain users on their platforms in the best way through content, and secondly, there are no such parameters to measure success on the platform and that is the reason why they invest so much money. They also understood that due to the geographical and demographic masses of the country the platforms are willing to go to much length for finding the new creators. The panelists agreed that this is the best time for the content creators, as now they can try whatever they want. The story and storytelling is what makes the difference and long-form content survive time. This session was followed by an insightful panel discussion on “Making Indian Stories Travel”, in which the speakers talked about the processes—both creative and technical—which can take Indian content to foreign screens. Sitting on the panel were MUBI India content advisor and producer Guneet Monga, creator, director, and writer Richie Mehta, and Red Chillies Entertainment producer and chief revenue officer Gaurav Verma. The discussion was moderated by BookMyShow VP content and strategy Monisha Singh Katial. To make Indian content travel around the world, the panelists said that subtitles and dubbing of the content in different languages is important. Apart from this, they also noted that appealing stories and subjects play an important role in reaching to the wider audiences across the world. The panelists agreed that the only way to dazzle audiences on OTT platform is through content and script. The proceedings of the day were taken ahead by a fascinating panel discussion on the topic of “Redefining Storytelling with Technology” between Endemol Shine India CEO Abhishek Rege, SonyLIV SVP and head-original content and partnerships Amogh Dusad, and Monozygotic Solutions co-founder Raghu Ram. Moderating the panel was TVFPlay head Vinay Pillai. The moderator began the discussion by giving a background on how technologies are helping content to evolve. The panel gave an understanding that technology has helped in two ways, one is in the making of content and the other is in translating that content to the consumers. The panelists also informed that technology has not influenced the way of storytelling but it has definitely influenced the way content is consumed. The discussion was followed by a “Deep Dive with Pocket Aces” on how to build and run a successful media tech company between Pocket Aces founders Ashwin Suresh and Anirudh Pandita, and moderator Hungama Digital Media Entertainment VP Soumini Sridhara Paul. The founders of the company threw light on the inception of the company in 2014 and its journey. They shared their experience of early days’ challenges faced by startups. The day continued post-lunch with a panel discussion on the very interesting topic of “Creating Binge-worthy Content”. On the panel were MX Player CEO Karan Bedi, House of Cheer founder and CEO Raj Nayak, Vikatan Group managing director B Srinivasan, and Viniyard Films founder Ashvini Yardi. Moderating the panel was Wanvari. The panelists shared their individual perspectives on what makes content binge-worthy. The panelists said that it is important to hook the audiences for the first five minutes, and last seven minutes. They also informed that efforts to hook the audience on AVoD are more than SVoD as the former has more migrating audiences. Next item on the list was a panel discussion on “India’s New-age Writers” between writers Ameya Sarda, Suhani Kanwar, Sagar Haveli, and moderator Tulsea content & creatives Samabesh Das. The panelists being the first generation writers of this golden age of OTT platforms find themselves being bogged down by the huge responsibility that comes with being a content creator. The trio also believes that on OTT there is a challenge to create content in more interesting and better ways to hook the audience. Another challenge which they highlighted is to execute the demands coming every now and then. Next in line was, Afsos co-creators Anirban Dasgupta and Dibya Chatterjee in conversation with OML managing partner Gunjan Arya, who shared their experience from being writers to show-runners. The day was concluded by Bard Of Blood author and creator Bilal Siddiqi and director Ribhu Dasgupta talking about creating this exquisite thriller with The Story Ink founder and chief storyteller Sidharth Jain. The duo shared their experience on making of show for the first time on the OTT platform. Bard of Blood is Red Chillies’ first show for Netflix while Emran Hashmi and Dasgupta debut on OTT platform as an actor and director respectively.