Share of digital in our revenues will grow to 20% in 5 years: Viacom18 MD

Topics Viacom18 | voot

Sudhanshu Vats, group chief executive officer and managing director, Viacom18
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai’s) new tariff order (NTO) has brought in more transparency and objectivity in the value chain. Subscription revenues have increased for broadcasters, even as subscriber numbers have gone down. Broadcasters are witnessing subscriber churn parallel to telecom, says Sudhanshu Vats, group chief executive officer and managing director, Viacom18. In conversation with Sohini Das, he talks about the company’s digital strategy. Edited excerpts:

You are launching Voot Kids on Wednesday. How do you see children’s entertainment market in India?

Video products for kids are available. Ours is the first product where we have multiple branches —videos, e-books, audiobooks, and developmental ‘light’ gaming. We have got content from Turner and BBC. The average spending per household on children’s entertainment is Rs 12,000-14,000 per annum.

Voot Kids would be a subscription model. We are looking at three revenue streams. We will try to upsell to existing users, explore a direct-to-consumer route, and look at partnerships with telcos or original equipment manufacturers.

Voot has 80 million monthly active users; they swing between 50 million and 80 million. It is an advertisement-led model, but is subscription-free. Voot may go behind paywall early next year. Voot in its current avatar will remain — you will have the option of watching it free, but premium content will be behind paywall.

With the advent of digital media, do you see television’s (TV’s) popularity getting hit?

There are 300 million households, of which around 197 million are TV homes. There are 100 million Indian households with no TV. The number of TV homes will grow in the next five-seven years — at least 70-80 million additions.

The average TV consumption is the highest in the metros, the second highest in top tier towns, and lower in tier-II and -III towns. TV consumption will rise as more homes get electrified. As average incomes grow, more products and brands come into a home. This would improve advertising yields. India is one of the cheapest countries to advertise in — Bangladesh and some sub-Saharan markets may be cheaper.

What is your outlook for monetising digital platforms?

There are 450 million internet users. Of these, 350 million are internet video users. YouTube is near ubiquitous — its number would be between 300 million and 325 million. The second being Facebook in India — at 250 million or higher. Then comes Hotstar — there are no official numbers, but our guess is their number during the Indian Premier League (IPL) season is 200 million or upwards. Without IPL, their number would be approximately 100-120 million or so. Then it is Voot. We have two numbers. One during the BigBoss season, the other without it —hovering around 50-80 million. Then come Zee5 and SonyLIV.

Digital is growing exponentially. India will evolve like China. Seven-eight years back, China had around 350-400 million internet video users. Most of these users were free. In 2018, China had 800 million internet video users and about 15-20 per cent were paid users. By 2022-23, we will have 750-800 million internet video users, which is roughly two-thirds of India’s population. Fifteen per cent people will be behind paywall. Today, that number is minuscule.

What is the share of revenue from digital now? Where do you see that going?

Three years back, it was nothing. It is around 7 per cent of our total revenue now. In five years, we see that touching 20 per cent of our overall revenue.

How has Trai’s NTO changed the dynamics? Would you like more tweaks to the NTO?

We do not need further changes. Any change in a country as vast as India takes six months to stabilise. We have just about stabilised. Ninety four per cent Indians are aware of NTO. Two-third of our or Viacom's subscribers have signed up for the distributor pack. One-third has either subscribed to the Colors pack or taking à la carte channels. This data shows one-third of Indians has made a choice. For 30 per cent to have made a choice is remarkable. On pricing, there are two components — Trai has introduced a Rs 130 connection. It is a base price for a connection even if you have free-to-air channels. This is going to inflate prices.

Because there are few large broadcasters, the popular belief is that they have gained. The distribution platform operators have gained, the government has gained with tax collections having gone up, and we have gained as well. Our subscription incomes have gone up as it has become a little more addressable. The number of subscribers has gone down, but subscription income has gone up.

With the NTO, the value chain has become more objective and addressable. NTO has brought in more transparency and objectivity in the value chain.

Has there been any churn in subscribers after the NTO?

We are witnessing a churn parallel to telcos. After NTO, a 7-8 per cent churn is happening. That is now a constant. Some consumers will come in for BigBoss, some for IPL, some for Indian Idol. Content is potent.

How will this change your expenditure on content?

We spend Rs 2,000-2,500 crore on content. Today, we spend a bit more on TV and then on digital. That will depend on how the eyeballs are moving. Content is also travelling from TV to digital. We are launching an all-women KBC in Tamil. It will be a Viacom18 production based on the international format.

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