Thursday, September 5, 2013

Unsolicited advice to VOD platform: get your heads out of the sand.

Here is my list of tips that I think any VOD platform needs to survive:

Do you know who your audience is?

I know this is a very cliched questions but I must ask this one again and again. I believe that the common man on the street is quite some years away from becoming the audience for VOD services. There is no point in trying to be a single screen cinema when the audience you really want wants a multiplex. Your audience is much ahead of you and there is no point in trying to put large numbers in business cases and say that maybe you will get 5% of that number in the first year. Your first million customers are likely to be the ones who already are aware and understand what VOD is and are using it in some form. 

What is your real audience watching?

Surely not the Salman Khan blockbusters that you want to display out loud on the home screen of your app!!! People who have the time are getting their fix of entertainment via torrents already. The connected and aware audience is consuming entertainment even before the mavens of TV acquire them for Indian C&S audience. So if you segment the audience into slivers - the top thin layer would be the audience that you absolutely want. They are your evangelists - the first 1 million people who will sing praises if you just listen to them. The others usually follow in hordes when this first lot is happy. This slice is not watching Chennai Express, they are not watching the TV serials and are definitely not looking forward to Grand Masti.

This audience wants NH7 streamed live, they want content that is usually deemed too niche for the TRP fuel. I am part of that sliver and I do not watch TV, Hindi films do not excite me enough to go into the crowded multiplexes, but I do wish someone got me Ship of Theseus or The Supermen of Malegaon on my tablet. I wish I had easy access to the entire Godfather series. I spend a lot of time watching content between my work and while I am waiting for things to happen. If I watch a movie or an interesting series, I want to know more. I want an IMDB equivalent that I can go to when I want while I watch VOD on my connected TV. I want the same content in different forms on the 3 screens I am in front of most of my waking hours. 

Have you heard of Original Content?

Am assuming you do read the blogs and are aware that everyone from Hulu to Netflix is investing huge money into Original content. Do not get me wrong, am not even suggesting that you go to your VC with this plan – he will most likely throw a tantrum and ask for excels in triplicate.  The most common excuse that VOD platforms have is that original content is expensive - I say you have not tried hard enough. Not thought through the content ecosystem. There is content for the asking in all formats available if you look hard. The stuff that goes on TV is merely 5% of what is created. The rest is not available for audiences because of the existing structure. The day you stop calling yourself a VOD and start thinking as an alternate broadcaster who does not have the restriction of 24 hours time slots, you have got the secret sauce.

The art of enabling people

My crib with youtube is that there is way too much crap out there which they want me to sift through to find what I want, and when I find it is usually not available in my country.  If you want your audience to keep using your service then you need to enable and empower him to discover the things that he wants in 3 clicks. Ok 4!! Invest in a good discovery engine, a good recommendation algorithm, go find a bunch of IIT kids who can build it for you.  Find a system that enables you to allow people to tinker around with the app without requiring a PhD. Most VOD services assume that just featuring thumbnails on the home screen would solve the problem, please apply intelligence – get a human to map events, happenings and change that homescreen content every couple of hours.

Become an MVNO

This is a moon shot idea but the one who gets this correct will win the battle of survival. The biggest problem against the VOD services in India is the willingness of the audience to pay for the bandwidth. If a VOD goes out there and buys spare bandwidth and figures out a way to reconcile, they could do an Amazon Whispernet for VOD.

Stop paying MGs

There is no way anyone can sustain a business by paying MGs upfront for TV content – There are several examples of VOD services that are dead or dying because of the lure of the big TV channels on the service so that your investor is happy and valuation increases. Instead focus on working with the TV channels to expand their content beyond the 24 minutes that they currently work with. TV folks are not bad people, they just are greedy, don’t give in to them. Please get your heads out of the sand.

More tips coming soon …..

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