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With 18 multi-lingual originals, VOOT in major OTT play

Chitra Narayanan Mumbai | Updated on August 31, 2018 Published on August 31, 2018

Posters of the Original shows

The two-year-old OTT platform from Viacom 18 shifts gears, unveils new content strategy

As the war in the OTT (over the top) video services market hots up, there is a furious race on to provide original binge worthy content. Viacom 18 has pitched headlong into the battle of screens to take on Netflix and Prime, two plaforms that had created waves with their gripping web series. The channel’s video-on-demand platform VOOT, which was so far mostly riding on content from its bouquet of TV channels (Colours, MTV, Nickelodeon, etc), is now unleashing a tsunami of original content to take on the competition.

The two-year-old ad-supported platform is also shifting gears by going international, experimenting with a freemium model, and boosting technology by adopting Google Watch action that makes search easier. It is also introducing Dolby Surround Sound on all its VOOT original content.

At a ritzy star-studded event in Mumbai on Thursday evening, VOOT showcased the first set of its Originals —18 multi-lingual web series cutting across genres. From Barefoot 11, a sports biopic penned by Javed Akhtar, to Asura, a psychological crime thriller to Law & Honour, a legal drama, the shows straddle diverse themes.

“Gut, data, gut,” influenced the selection of these series, said Monica Shergill, Head- Content, Viacom 18 Digital Ventures, when asked how they chose and commissioned the content.

Two out of five shows were ideated and born in Viacom studios itself. Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the movie- making arm of the company, is also involved in creating content. Jamtara, a crime drama set in sleepy small towns, and X-Ray, based on short stories penned by Satyajit Ray, are two series being produced by the network’s movie studio under the banner Tipping Point Films.

Content Philosophy

Three Tamil shows —Dakalti, Sirrai and Don’t Think — and, one Kannada show —I See You —were unveiled in line with VOOT’s regional thrust. “Regional is the new national,” declared Sudhanshu Vats, Managing Director of Viacom 18, describing how the regional broadcasting arms of the company like Colours Tamil would be involved in the production of some of the VOOT originals in Indian languages.

Tamil, according to Shergill, is the second most viewed language video content in India, after Hindi. Over time, five more languages, including Bengali and Marathi, would be added to the portmanteau of web-original series.

VOOT, explained Vats, categorised content under three heads: catch up content, which is programming from its TV channels, including news from TV 18 (Viacom18 is a 51:49 JV between TV 18 and Viacom); exclusive content, which could be cinema or TV show deals available only to the platform; and ‘originals’ which are shows that it commissions. The mix would be 60 per cent of catch-up content and 40 per cent of exclusives plus originals, said Vats, adding that 50,000 hours of catch up content is already on the platform.

Expansion strategy

VOOT will begin its international journey by debuting in the UK first, most likely around November. According to Vats, the UK market with its large Indian diaspora presents a significant opportunity for VOOT. It will enter the market riding on a tie up with a local telco there, he said. Gradually, however, VOOT will be on app stores there too.

In India, the OTT opportunity is hotting up, said Vats, pointing out that currently 300 million people watch online video content in the country. That number is poised to go up to 750 million or even 800 million by 2020, riding on smart phone penetration as well as the affordable data revolution sparked by services like Jio. We are seeing a gigabyte of data now being offered at sub-₹20 levels, fuelling consumption, he said.

Published on August 31, 2018
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