At a time when Indian Video-on-Demand (VOD) platforms is getting crowded by the day, ALTBalaji – the youngest entrant in the space has scripted a phenomenal success story with more than 15 million downloads. Even though biggies such as Hotstar & Voot are getting more eyeballs and have a wide user base, ALTBalaji (launched in April, 2017) continues to push up the numbers by offering a completely ad-free, only original content which is streamed in 90 countries globally.
What’s different this time for the undisputed king of Indian television and entertainment is that much of their success is riding on data that forms the backbone of operations and strategy and the platform is all about original content that ticks with the audience. In a conversation with Analytics India Magazine, ALTBalaji’s Chief Marketing Officer Manav Sethi who is tasked with the job of international expansion, growth, customer acquisition & retention, product as well as UI guidelines tells us how data plays a huge role at ALTBalaji and why drumming up original content will always be an art + science.
1) Can you tell us how data and analytics is used to find insights to maximize customer engagement, and drive conversions by finding the relevant audience?
Given the kind of business we are in, data analytics forms the bedrock of everything we do. At any given point of time, we have 120+ triggers/ predictors that we catch before the customer is in suspecting stage on the platform or say registered with us. For example, if a customer viewed a trailer or interacted with the platform in any way, the kind of signals we look at are what frame he has viewed, what was the last viewed scene, location, gender and demographic et al. Then we go ahead and see whether he/she used the platform from one location or multiple locations, whether it is consumed on WIFI or mobile internet.
2) What tools or technologies does the data science team work on and what’s the size of the team?
All our data is very closely synced with RedShift and Microsoft Azure as a combination. From an analytics and visualization standpoint we use Tableau. We have a home-grown platform which is built on Python because in the high intensive computing environment, read-ops are a lot more and Python helps with that.
In terms of performance marketing, we work with a team called Sokrati which has been acquired by Dentsu recently. Besides Sokrati, we also use lot of tools like App Annie for composition in the ecosystem and AppsFlyer. We also work with a fraud detection tool.
As for team, our current team size is 5 members and that includes both marketing analytics and analytics as a whole. But that said, we are always on a lookout for new members.
3) Can you tell us about your active base? Also, Hotstar pushes 100 million subscribers, but all are not paid users?
We have about 15 million downloads currently and if you look at the last App Annie report that came out last year, we were ranked amongst the top 3 revenue grossing video streaming app in the country, as per ‘State of Video Streaming Apps in India’ report. Now that was an eye-opener for the entire industry since we launched the platform in April of 2017 that report came out in September and we were already number 3 after Netflix and Hotstar.
The only difference is that for Hotstar, the biggest revenue stream is not subscription, it is ad based we are the only competing ad-free platform in India. That’s why for us there is a lot of value in data and a there is a lot of marketing analytics right from customer lifecycle management and CRM intertwined in it.
4) Can you give us a use case of how retention is used to drive customer acquisition?
From the very moment our acquisition team brings in a user, our retention team has created programs which are mapped with these triggers internally. So, for example, you watched show one and you lapsed after episode 3, what all can I do to bring you back? I can take a frame from episode 6 and say “Hey you have not seen that”.
Just like this, there are a lot more programs we have created internally, and I would like to say this on record, that we have a higher double-digit number conversion when it comes to registered and paid subscribers. Also, remember – we are the only app available in 90 countries globally and we have paying customers from about 50 of these countries. Our top performing countries after India are US, UK, Singapore, Middle East, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
5) Can you give a use case about user acquisition?
So, the way we structured our acquisition strategy is say, when you come to our platform you can watch first two episodes free, but you can watch the next three episodes after you register with us. Our conversion programs are structured in such a way that we identify certain attributes and there’s the ability to keep coming back to you. There are programs that are built for anonymous users and there are programs that are built for registered users on the site. And the focus of the retention team is to keep converting the both the sets of users back.
6) There’s so much talk about original content being dictate by data? Is that the case at ALTBalaji also which is known for its cutting-edge original web series?
I am saying this globally, that it is too early for programs or content to be created based purely on data insights. Even Netflix, if they mandate the next season of Narcos or House of Cards — it is not they will go out and do a focus group study to make one or not. In this case, I am not talking about season 2, I am talking about new shows. By and large, some amount of data is used of course and we have been in the industry for so long it gives us a lot of visibility into what our consumers like to consume. But there is no definitive science to it. It is science plus art.
So, we have certain signals and we keep on looking at those signals in terms of which viewer is coming from which geography and what kind of shows they are consuming. This gives us the ability to go back and keep re-tweaking our programming. So, when I launched ALTBalaji, I launched it with 12 shows, out of which we have already announced season 2 of three shows.
Data is the backbone of everything that we do. And that is what differentiates us from a typical broadcast TV right. For every poster which I make, every trailer which I make there is a set of audiences in mind. Before I release a trailer, I do a lot of A/B testing which part of the geography will like what kind of trailer and poster.
7) ALTBalaji is big on personalization, can you tell us about your recommender system as well?
On the personalization side, we are doing a lot – the mailer you will get is not the mailer the other guy will get but as of now the home-screen for all the viewers is the same. We are not that high on recommendation at least as of now but we would invest in it a year from now because right now we have 18 shows. Once, we have a big enough library, we would start focusing on recommendations also.
8) What are the focus areas in 2018?
Going in 2018, we would like to create at least 200-300 hours of original shows. Our belief is that that India is an entertainment hungry country, and if you look there are 165 million cable lines in home and 200 million TVs in households but just a billion mobile population out of which smartphone are still about 400 million or so. There is a lot of scope for Hindi content which is how my dear friend Sameer Nair famously propounded Chasm between Naagin & Narcos.
Out of the 100 million potential people that lean towards English entertainment, there are about 700 million viewers looking for Naagin type entertainment. That’s where ALTBalaji will have a role to play and that’s where all our energies are.