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Managing 200 Million Relationships: How ZEE5 Disrupted Indian Television

The CEO of ZEE5, the fastest-growing video streaming vendor in India, shares how his team communicates, engages and builds relationships with its 200 million customers.

Video Transcript

Good afternoon. I know I’m between you, and lunch, and the drinks. So, I’m going to keep this quick. India is an exciting market. Some of you guys may have had businesses there or are planning to launch businesses into India. So, what I’ll do is over the next 5 or 10 slides, I’ll take you through what India is looking like, what India has been able to achieve over the last 3 or 4 years, and where is the internet penetration, data penetration, data consumption going in India?

How are digital businesses growing, how are traditional businesses transforming to adapt to this whole new young generation who only thinks mobile and digital, and then come and talk to you about a little bit about us and where we’re going in building almost close to 200 million relationships on an ongoing basis. I know number seems large because, you know, it is like it is in India or China, and it’s going to be a bit larger than life for you guys to believe that people have, you know, 40 million, 70 million, 80 million kind of subscribers or users or things like that.

But that is India for you. We are an OTT brand that serves in 12 languages in India, and 12 is also a little less. Our aim is to do this more and more, but 12 is the minimum that, you know, we started with. YouTube, to give you an understanding, is in about six languages in India. So when we launched about 18 months ago, we were sure that we needed to do better.

And because we were coming late into the market, we went with almost as many Indian languages that we could manage. So what is India, and why is it so unique? It’s one of the largest growing economies in the world at about 15%, and really continues to fuel the entire growth of the world.

Between China, India, and America, you can see the numbers are really, really big. But that apart, digital seems to be the big growth driver in India. And this is an interesting slide. I thought, you know, I’ll bring this out because it really shows you where Indian consumers are going. You know, in the next 18 months, there are going to be about 5 million digital-only TV consumers in India, right?

It’s an interesting number. These are 5 million people who possibly are not going to consume linear television in any form or fashion. So the only digital video they consume is through streaming services. And then right at the end, there are free consumers, free consumers who continue to go to consumer ad-supported content. There are mass consumers.

There are bundle digital. And what we call bundle digital is, you know, people who consume their premium services through bundled offerings of telcos and many other ways that, you know, digital partners, and so on, and so forth, many others where people are landing their digital subscription. And what we call tactical digital are 25 million paying subscribers. They may be lapsers.

They may be monthly subscribers. They may be annual subscribers with 25 million paying subscribers in the country. This is the digital video streaming, and this is an interesting category. These are just the large players. There are lots of small independents also coming into the game. But these are the large players now in the market.

They are traditional broadcasters in India, have done a very good job of moving to OTT. Unlike most other parts of the world, traditional broadcasters actually lead the game in digital video streaming, and they possibly came in early. They had the library. They understood the consumers. They also understood what it took to be able to engage their consumers on an ongoing basis.

So not only just catch-up TV but they’ve been able to build a 360-degree offering for consumers in the country. So there’s Hotstar which used to be Star and Fox but now is Disney. There is us, ZEE5. We are a 27-year-old broadcast network in the country and the first one almost in India and in Asia.

SonyLIV which comes from Sony. Voot is a Viacom 18 offering. Sun is a big player in the market, and then there are many others. There are also global majors. YouTube continues to be a free platform. They’ve launched a premium service in the country and also a music service. There is obviously prime video.

Fairly large. Possibly between us and them, we are the top two subscribed or premium platforms in the country. There is Netflix starting to localize more and more, starting to invest in Indian content. They clearly want to bring India up to speed with their global numbers. They’ve also launched a mobile-only pack only in India, and possibly only place in the world at a much lower price point than their regular 600 rupees or $8 price point that they have across the world.

And then there are a lot of independents and some regional players across APAC. Now, in all of these, 40% of Indian consumers are regional language consumers. So you can’t really get into India unless you do this in many, many languages. And, really, this is not just 40% across 4 languages but 40% across many languages. And if you look at this chart, right, we’ve got in this order, we’ve got some of these others sorted, but there are still 20% consumers who consume in other languages outside of the 12 that we do.

So how do you really, you know, get to the pole position in a country like this? We realized that there was…you know, there were three key pillars to get this right. One, we believe was experience with everything and video was the key, right? We believe that video is taken for granted, but it isn’t so.

And much like in a country like India where people are across many, many platforms right from a feature phone. And we really have feature phone that delivers video in the country which starts at a $1price point, $1 bundled service with the handset and the data, right up to HD smart TVs on the other, and 8k, 4k devices, and everything in the middle, right, from Chinese sub-$100 smartphones to iOS to, you know, to Samsung devices, and so on, and so forth.

This was a big thing, and we needed to make sure that we were able to deliver video at the quality that really was acceptable. So people didn’t need buffering. People needed, you know, exit before video. Made sure that it was streaming well. So we needed to encode all our content in many, many manifests and for many, many cohorts to be able to deliver video seamlessly.

The other was vernacular. Like I spoke to you guys, 12 languages was minimal. We needed to do more and more but that also, 12 languages in content, 12 languages in UI, in UX, in every single, you know, part of the platform so that everybody could consume it easily and seamlessly. And the last was voice.

We knew that, you know, even the handphones, the mobile phones, were not supporting so many Indian languages. So how do people really search for content? Content discovery became a big issue, and voice was something that solved it. So voice search was something that we started from the very beginning. The younger, the much older, the lower down the substrata, they all use voice search to be able to find content in so many languages.

And that made sure that the app was really only tap, no type. And you could really get through the entire user journey without having to type at all. You know, the other pieces that actually built us to what we were was we realized that there were three things that were going to work beyond vernacular, voice, and video and that was really about understanding how do we distribute ourselves?

You know, there are classic distribution partnerships. So you do OEMs. You put yourself on all kind of smart TVs. You know, you build apps on many devices, but you’ve got to build a really, a big platform of people trying to be able to get premium subscription without having to pay for it because a large part of Indian population wasn’t used to paying for premium content.

And so we went out and built some really good price point relationships with mobile partners, and really engaging them in a relationship and engaging their users for both acquisition as well as retention. We then built out a platform for both AVOD and SVOD. So a big thing about Indian population is that they want to watch catch-up TV but not pay for it.

So they had to pay for it through their data and that leading from an ad-supported service. A large part of advertising decided to move to digital video in the country. But the only people who were getting it were YouTube and Facebook. And we then realized that digital video was a great place for us to be in because as broadcasters, we’d had a large pie of that advertising for several years, and if we weren’t going to do something now, it was all going to move to the big tech.

The last thing was really building the brand. And we went out and overinvested in building the brand. And that has paid us in good stead beyond traditional performance marketing. I think we did a lot of different things to be able to make sure the brand was in people’s faces. You know, it’s people like Amazon and Netflix come into the country, and they overspend every single local player.

But here, we actually stood our ground and made sure that we invested in our brand hugely. The other thing we did was we realized we couldn’t build it all in technology. We are only 18 months old. So we partnered with a lot of people across the world to be able to bring a lot of out-of-box technology and a lot of out-of-box products into our platform, Optimove being one, Applicasa being one, Minute.ly being one.

And Minute.ly is a really good solution. And things like that which are really ahead of even what YouTube was giving. It was an auto preview solution which was personalized and recommended to you. And so you could scrub a 20-minute video into a 2-minute clip, and that would really show up without you having to autoplay it onto your platform any given time when you landed there.

So, really, data, technology, and content were the three ways to go. You know, we’ve been a hardcore content company. Twenty-seven years of building content in the country. We had enough content. But what we didn’t know well enough was actually getting all the events sorted and thousands and thousands of user events to be able to put that into a CDP to be able to build engagement with them and all of that in a predictive way.

So really, you know, in each of our parts of our business, we needed to make sure that, you know, we got customers, we retained them, we created depth and width of consumption. We made sure that we watched more and more videos, watched it completely, recommended it to them enough, and watched it across many, many dayparts in many, many days.

And that was across subscription, across partnered ecosystems, and across advertising. You know, where did we get to? Right, a massive addressable opportunity, a big growth opportunity in regional content. We needed to make sure that we created value through both advertising and subscription, lots of partnerships to cater to, and a lot of engagements and relationships to cater to, and all of this with a platform that had too much to deal with.

So at one level, you have certain amount of content that, you know, using language into consumer, into daily soaps, and so on, and so forth. But we had a humongous amount of content. We do live music. We do music videos. We do news channels live. We do events and awards. We do, you know, theater.

We do original content. We do movies, content that went from one end to another, choices that went from one end to another, and partners that went from the lowest end to the highest end. In all of this, we achieved this, and I’ll tell you how in the next slide, we has got to about 80 million users in about 18 months.

We got to a fairly sizable subscription base. Our numbers grew month and month, and we do about half a billion video streams every month. Our time spend is really up to another level altogether, and really, 120 minutes of average watch time per user on an ongoing basis.

This, with a plethora of use cases that we built out for consumers, whether it was AVOD, SVOD, whether it was white-label transactions on e-comm platforms, whether it was social profiles, whether it was live streaming, music streaming, whether it was connected devices, whether it was interactivity, gamification, or we now also plan to move into vertical video, UGC content.

And we had to manage all these relationships in a very intimate intuitive way to be able to understand every single user, to be able to communicate with every single user, to be able to run campaigns, to be able to upgrade them from free services to premium services, for them to be able to retain them and increase their watch time on an ongoing basis.

And all of that had to be done real time. So we used many products, and we now use Optimove but real time was really the key in all of this. We knew that consumers had many bad video experiences. Videos would buffer. We knew that, you know, networks were slow, and latency was high. We needed to go back and talk to them immediately about their experience, teach them about the features and functionalities we had on the app, made sure if they downloaded, if they were not being able to see, made sure they will be able to restart.

We have very deep player analytics on the platform. We use another player analytics, you know, SDK, which gives us a lot of data right through the CDN you’re using, right till the last, you know, mobile network that you’re using to deliver video and content. We also had to really maximize lifetime value, and we had to add data to fuel creativity eventually on the kind of content that we were commissioning, the kind of content that we were going to create on an ongoing basis.

Also, the challenges were… There is India, for whatever it’s worth, is a low or poor market, and people pay $2 for 30 GB data every month. They’re not going to pay you a seriously lot of money to be able to buy a subscription. So lifetime value had to be improved. Content discovery was the key, and I was telling somebody this, that we have so much content that, you know, even if you don’t divide the languages into cohorts and so on and so forth, it was almost impossible to be able to make sure that we serve to the segment of one.

We now have got to the point that most of our platform is now auto-curated. So either it’s recommended to that individual through collaborative recommendation, or we auto-curate it through rule-based refresh. So nothing is really manually curated anymore, and every single piece of item is almost as personalized as can get to you.

And there was also a problem of plenty. There were more and more players coming in, and there’s also pricing that was taking a hit. So too much discounting. There was a lot of cashbacks that, you know, people like Amazon and the others were doing in the market. We also needed to own the customer at every interaction, and we needed to make sure that people had high-quality viewing experience on an ongoing basis.

So what did we really do? Three or four things that really led to where we are. One was we built out a model of freemium to premium. It worked really well both in terms of content creation and in terms of journey mapping and in terms of pricing.

That really worked for us. We went out, and we created a pack called Before TV. So all the catch-up TV that, you know, went out was given to users 12 hours before it would even land on the TV screens. We created a definitive pack for that, and we created packs in different languages for those users.

That really took off with consumers who had high affinity to those characters and wanted to see them and had really the value of seeing them before anybody else saw them. We also created churn models on pack pricing and frequency of purchase. Content consumption and engagement was the other thing to create really with in-depth of consumption.

So we had to create thousands of microsegments to understand how we could be able to recommend to people on basis of interest levels, gamings, and short-form content. Upgrade was another big thing. We did so many packs. We needed to make sure that eventually, everybody landed on the highest value pack, on the all-access pack. So we needed to make sure that, you know, we had good real-time recommendation to people when they were buying these packs.

And now we’ve got to a point where even our “subscription” page is kind of personalized. So when you land up there, you will see the content that, you know, we think you are going to be most interested in, so that you can eventually end up buying the highest value pack. Taking all that information backward into our performance marketing and creating a better acquisition or better funnels of P1 users also helped us in optimizing and getting better lifetime value.

A lot of funnel optimization happened at every stage. We have events mapped out, and we were making sure that we did some really good personalized amendment campaigns. And that really helped us because we know that, you know, if you’re really dropping off, it could be because of price, it could be because of experience, it could be because of the content, and you’re not finding content relevant enough to yourself, and the width of devices and device history.

So the other thing we realized is that when people use more than one device, as in if they used their mobile, as well as they use a TV screen, they will more likely to be retained than anything else. So if you’re eventually going to watch your content on many, many screens and you’re sharing your profile or your login with many more people, you’re less likely to churn.

And really, you know, that was the whole thing that getting people to use more devices, getting people to migrate from mobile to television really made the game for us. So meaningful, and this is the word that Pini used in the morning, and I was thinking, “Hey, he’s taken my presentation.” But really it was all about being meaningful, meaningful content for users, meaningful experience, and meaningful offers on an ongoing basis.

And the entire model between reach, act, convert, and engage needed a lot of data going through and through and funneling through and through, so that we could continuously learn, understand our users, and go back in a very relevant manner to them, so that we could retain them, we could upgrade them, and we could create more loyalty with them.

So what all did we do? Right from understanding price sensibility to understanding quality of experience metrics and understanding, you know, where they were dropping off, what the issues were, to creating funnel optimization to creating micro-segmentation and to trying to…doing as much of one-on-one possible, it led us to the scale that we’ve got to today.

But there’s a lot to be done. There’s a lot about building emotionally intelligent personalization. And our entire hope is that we can personalize this platform as much and as far as possible. What’s really key is not just content personalization but journey personalization, the entire payment personalization, and understanding, you know, how you could pay, what you could do.

And we’re working with, you know, another platform company which is helping us personalize every element of our payment journey to be able to make packs on the fly with customer understanding of what could get people going. A movie pack, a TV-only pack, or, you know, regional-only pack, and so on, and so forth.

So a lot of personalization still to be done. Maximizing lifetime value bases that and also deepening our understanding of the user. So while we get a lot of events in and we do understand the users, I think there is a lot and a lot of work to be done there. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in our digital video streaming platform where, you know, people watch video for different reasons, and we can create contextual advertising.

We can create, you know, journeys that can really help both our advertisers as well as our users on the long run. So really as, you know, more and more users propel India to be one of the larger digital markets in the world, hyper-personalized experience is going to be where it is. And we’re hoping that with all the work that we’re doing on our CDP, with Optimove, and with some of the other platforms that we’re working with, we will be able to achieve something, and in years to come, you know, we’ll make Optimove and others proud of ourselves.

So thank you so much. And I hope you guys come to India and see for yourself where this country is going.

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