The Alchemy Of Alt Balaji
All of us are familiar with the classic tale of David Vs Goliath. Times may have changed, but some things remain the same. On one hand, there are international players like Disney Plus Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and on the other are players supported by broadcast networks such as Zee Network (Zee 5), Sony (Sony Liv) and Viacom 18 (Voot). And then, there is an Indian homegrown OTT player up against more than 30 players with varying subscriber base and popularity. ALT Balaji.
TV queen Ekta Kapoor’s OTT platform, ALT Balaji, recently celebrated its third anniversary with a cumulative subscriber base of 40 million users. As per their financial report, the platform has nearly 1.7 million paying active users. We take a look at what worked for ALT Balaji and how it has been able to amass such a huge subscriber base. ALT Balaji offers over 60 original shows in Hindi and this is one of its major strengths. Speaking about their strategy, Divya Dixit SVP – Marketing, Analytics and Direct Revenue at ALT Balaji, says it’s the in-house expertise of Kapoor, who has been producing Hindi language content for over 25 years now. “If you look at Indian demographics, 70 per cent of content consumed is in Hindi. So, as a platform, it makes sense to focus our efforts in that direction and win over the Hindi-speaking population. Once we achieve it, we can establish our supremacy in the OTT landscape and hopefully start to add more avenues. This year, we are focusing primarily on consolidating our position to ensure that we dominate the Hindi space and move forward,” she says.
Another important aspect would be fair pricing. Today, any brand will tell you that India is a price-sensitive country, and brands usually tread lightly when it comes to maintaining their profit margins in this area. The OTT space is no different. ALT’s competitive pricing has helped the platform in penetrating the markets that most big players haven’t reached. Dixit explains, “We have two pricing options, the quarterly package for Rs 100 and the annual package for Rs 300, which is approximately less than one rupee per day. We have always believed that for any OTT to set the bar high, it needs to have the right kind of market penetration. At ALT, we welcome the competition because our aim is to make the OTT space a mass mode of content consumption. The only way to make this happen is if you have a good infrastructure, brilliant penetrative pricing and a great mix of content that is not available on TV or anywhere else. These factors are working in our favour as we have also tied up with telecoms providers (Vodafone and Airtel) to creates awareness about the platform.”
Disney Plus supported by Hotstar recently entered the OTT space, offering its Hindi content at the price of Rs 399 under VIP access package, which is similar to ALT Balaji. CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya, says, “It is not fair to draw comparisons between the two platforms as both of us have our own USPs and both cater to a different set of audience. Even though the pricing is similar, the content is very different and we have the biggest library of Hindi originals across genres.” It is not always about who has got more money, but about how smartly you spend it. As ALT Balaji is backed by a production company, it doesn’t have the same financial resources as the other big players in the market, but that doesn’t change the way they market themselves. The platform has tied up with telecom companies like Vodafone and Airtel to create awareness. Now with Zee 5, they have managed to garner an even bigger subscriber base. Dixit says, “We work very differently to market ALT Balaji’s content. We have tie-ups, alliances, barter and trade-offs, and in-house influencer marketing for wider reach. The idea is how do I ambush a very premium and popular campaign and have my own take-off on that? We are huge fans of guerrilla marketing. We come up with quirky ideas and it’s those social media posts and videos that stand out. We don’t mind parodying and riding on popular campaigns. A lot of brands have used the same gimmick in the past.”
All said and done, one may be great at marketing and pricing, but if you can’t back it up with good content, retaining the subscriber base is an uphill task. Speaking of good content, Pantvaidya says, “We, at ALT Balaji, believe in creating unique and untold stories that appeal to people across age groups and gender. Our shows are a healthy mix of thriller, drama, romance, youth drama, horror and comedy. Each show that is streaming on the platform has been created keeping the audience’s interest in mind. For instance, shows like Kehne Ko Humsafar Hain, Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat, It Happened in Calcutta, Baarish, Dil Hi To Hai are mostly consumed by women in the 25-45 year age bracket across India. However, thrillers like Apharan, Ragini MMS: Returns, Code M are consumed by men in the 22- 45 years age bracket. Shows such as Mentalhood, The Test Case, MOM: Mission Over Mars, Bose: Dead/ Alive, The Verdict – State vs Nanavati are being consumed extensively by urban Indians across all age groups.” When we asked Tanveer Bookwala, owner of Ding and producer of shows like Boygiri, Fittrat and The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family about his association with ALT Balaji, he says, “ALT Balaji produces the highest number of shows compared to any other platform. For instance, TVF only produces a certain type of content, while ALT Balaji provides a wider variety of content from horror to drama to thriller to action to comedy. That is why it has always been a pleasure to work with them. I have the freedom to pitch any kind of content to them.”
According to the numbers available in the data, the subscriber base for the OTT platform is more male-driven than female. This makes them curate content that tends to be sensual and tantalising. Dixit says, “There is nothing wrong in making sensual content. There are a lot of other OTT platforms that make enough sensual content and don’t shy away from it. To each their own because we are not here to judge. We are here only to give the audience what they want to see. Sensual content is meant only for a certain set of subscriber base and it is customised to appear only in those subscription profiles. ALT Balaji has been ahead of its time with its women empowerment stories and the selection of content. Sometimes, we might get some flak for it, but it still stands out because others are not doing what we are doing.” Speaking of people’s perception of ALT Balaji’s brand image, Bookwala said: The platform has produced a variety of shows like Code M, Bose and Test Case but when Gandi Baat released, it was an instant hit with the audience and became synonymous to the brand image of ALT Balaji. They are not trying to position themselves as a platform for erotica, but it has just become that way over time.”
In fact, the platform is all set to make their profit soon. Pantvaidya says, “With our costs being controlled in the first half of fiscal 2020 and the loss margin further reducing by the end of the current fiscal, we are aiming to break even by 2021.” With their expertise in content, storytelling, smart marketing, and competitive pricing along with cheaper data prices and profits pouring in, this David will be all set to take the battle to Goliath soon.