In the media business? Solve the content puzzle first: COO of Viacom18 Digital Ventures

Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, highlights how media businesses should focus on evolving in the digital era and why analytics happen to be a goldmine for media houses.

How do you see Indian media companies adopting to digital transition?

Digital is a very broad word and is loosely used. As a media company when you go digital, you do it at multiple levels. Our channels have been broadcasting digitally for a long time now. Media companies have also had digital (using the internet or telecom networks) strategies when it came to marketing, interactivity and promoting products

Building scalable distribution models of content and channels for access on internet enabled devices is the ‘newer’ level of going digital for media companies today.

The alternate screen viewing is a phenomena fueled by changing consumer habits, wide distribution of smart or internet enabled devices, better connectivity and more content being available online.

Before the iPhone was actually launched, Blackberry smartphones were there, but you couldn’t consume video the way we can do today. Now we have both devices and bandwidth.

Technology and connectivity is moving at a rapid pace today enabling content consumption. There are already closed to 400 million Indians online – connected largely through mobile platforms. People are consuming content both offline and online through these mobile devices - thereby opening up huge opportunities for content owners.

Today video content is beyond just channels. Content is being consumed in varied ways, with respect to that how do you align tech and content especially as you launch your VOD (video on demand) platform?

There is a subtle behavioral change happening with respect to how people consume content today. People are increasingly becoming more demanding about the content being available at the time and place that works for them.

If you look at international markets, the DVR or PVR allowed people to record multiple episodes of a show and watch it later. Appointment viewing got replaced by time-shifted viewing and binge watching, essentially refining the concept of video-on-demand. Today we have multiple players trying to further refine this concept into mobile and web based software products.  In the Indian context DVR penetration is miniscule – and most catch up anyway happens online via mobile devices

At the heart of it, this is a content business. Technology acts as a big facilitator in how the content is made available, presented and consumed by the consumer. For a VOD product the quality, popularity and uniqueness of content become extremely important. And then of course layering that with originals that you will get nowhere else – not even on TV – adds another dimension that makes the package really attractive.  You’ll see this at play when we launch VOOT.

Once the content puzzle is solved, one has to work with the best in class technology and design partners to develop a world class product to back the content that one has. It's a combination of content and product (backed by tech) that will deliver the winning punch.

Digital media happens to be a vertical that is extremely dependent on connectivity or data, in that case what are the challenges involved in the process and how do you go about implementing tech to overcome this?

The challenges are multifold. The increasing proliferation of smart devices in India is being led by low cost Android handsets which typically have comparatively lower storage and processing abilities – hence there are only as many apps that a person can download or keep on his phone. Also, data prices in India are still on the higher side in comparison to voice costs. Additionally, technological infrastructure is often found wanting - with low fixed line broadband penetration, low data speeds and congested networks.

The heartening thing is that each of these challenges can also be seen as an opportunity.  The next 24 months will see explosion of better quality handset penetration, dramatic improvement in data speeds, serious tariff rationalization of mobile data and much stronger tail winds aiding fixed line broadband penetration.

In the interim, we need to ensure our product caters to the networks and speeds in the market as video streaming can happen at various bit rates. To give consumers quick access and yet great quality we work on adaptive bit rate. We also need to ensure that the apps are light, especially considering the memory issue on phones. Simultaneously we need to look at features like offline viewing – which become relevant in markets like ours.

How analytics is helping you personalize your content?

Analytics in this business is one of the most strategic assets one can have. Every single user consuming our content is a vital data source for us and every interaction with our product or content is a data point. There are tools available that we can literally get to know what ‘a’ user did on our product on a screen-by-screen basis. Yes, these are expensive tools, but gives great insight on product performance.  Similarly on content, we can get great insight on behavior of users using various tools one has – these could aid you in better targeting or personalization and some times even guide you on content creation.

We use analytics for - product usage and functionality, content consumption metrics and recommendations for marketing and re-targeting and lastly better ad-targeting. Data generated by the users can be a goldmine- one just needs to know how to use it properly.

What impact will digitization have on print media? Will it ultimately perish?

Everything needs to evolve – to adapt to the users expectation and to remain relevant in times to come. Just as TV networks are evolving and looking at themselves as video content creators and not broadcasters, the print media should not just be defined by the word ‘paper’, but by editorial and the written word. I feel that is not going away anywhere.

A recent report I was reading claimed that the physical sale of books, after few years of decline, actually went up last year in US. People are reading more and not less. Yes, they are reading more online along with offline, but the point is the demand for content is high. It is just that the model and the access modes are evolving. So the written word is going no-where, it is very much here to stay

It all boils down pivoting quickly to stay relevant in today’s times. As they say “it's not the big that eat the small, it's the fast that eat the slow.”