India is the most important piece of the business for OTT growth: Zulfiqar Khan, HOOQ

Built in Asia for Asia, HOOQ is Asia’s first premium video-on-demand service to launch across the region. HOOQ is a start-up joint venture established in January 2015 by Singtel, Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros. It currently operates across five markets – India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, , with a combined population footprint of over 1.7 billion people. HOOQ delivers over 10,000 Hollywood, regional and local movies and TV shows to customers.

HOOQ has a different business model for each market. While they have offer a premium subscription service in India, but in other markets they may offer a freemium model, live TV, and local content. India is a key contributor to the global OTT business and continues to grow. India is probably the most important piece for the growht of the OTT space.

Recently, HOOQ announced that it will be the world’s first OTT service to localise its entire content library using machine learning and automated “smart dub” technology. The OTT service plans to localise English-language content for Indian audiences in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu by the end of 2019, to improve accessibility of content for the diverse Indian market.

To amplify its efforts to deliver the best of international entertainment in India, HOOQ plans on becoming the first and only OTT-video service with all English-language content on the service available with both subtitles and audio dubbing in multiple Indian languages catered to the diverse Indian market.

HOOQ continues to enhance its offering through a series of unique partnerships with brands such as Airtel and Hotstar, which is a significant part of its business strategy.

HOOQ has recently launched one of its first Originals series called ‘Bhak’, which is the winner of the Filmmakers Guild Program – a program that runs across South East Asian countries to provide independent filmmakers a platform to showcase their talent.

Leading HOOQ’s business in India is Zulfiqar Khan, Managing Director, HOOQ India. In an interaction with Adgully, Khan shares his perspective on how the OTT space is evolving in the country, the consumption of English content and more. Excerpts:

How has HOOQ’s journey been in India?

HOOQ was launched in 2015 and was available in India at that point in time in small measure. We were still trying to find our feet in India as to what our strategy should be. In the first few years the growth was slow. But I can tell you that last month we have doubled our user base. We also had a bit of Hindi and regional content at one point of time. About a year and a half ago we moved away from that and zoomed into the concept of English, Hollywood and International content. We consolidated on that and want to own that space. Our journey is progressing on that front. Our focus and commitment are to build a library of top-notch international content.

In each of the five countries that we are present in, our business models and content offerings are different. For example, in Indonesia we have got live TV, freemium and local content. We produce original shows.

In India, we are a premium English content platform. Currently, we don’t have any originals. Our current business strategy is to work with likeminded partners. We have got a strategic partnership in place with Hotstar as well as Airtel. Apart from that we have our own OTT platform. In India, we will keep our platform for the ‘super fan’, where they can come on to the platform and consume the content and we provide a personalised service and do the curation. For a larger audience base, we would continue to work with partners and partnerships would be our big foray.

Read more: Deciphering the battle of the OTT platforms in the Indian market

What is the traction for English content in the Indian market?

Historically, as far as content consumption is concerned, even before television came in, there was a small niche which was watching English movies in India. Then technology impacted everyone – whether it was VHS or tapes. The premium segment people were consuming this content. Then came TV channels and the universe became larger and more accessible. There was more to be seen and those barriers were broken. With digital ecosystem taking shape, the proliferation of English content has really gone up. The comparison that is typically done is that English will never be as big as Hindi. But having said that, English itself has seen a very interesting growth, with the number of platforms that exist today. These are global players who have come in and released a large part of the content.

There is more than enough English content available. Also, I think with the technology infrastructure changing, people are getting tremendous exposure. A lot of content is getting consumed outside of India. That is an encouraging thing. I have watched film pieces in India which have international content standards.

There has been a steady traction. There is also a matter of accessibility. The Indian traveler is going abroad. There are a set of people in the ecosystem who have moved up the bracket. This segment is bound to grow.

TV shows would contribute 65-75 per cent, and in some cases 80 per cent, of the English content consumption.

While the growth has traditionally been in the big cities or urban markets, when you dive deep into the content ecosystem and analyse the traffic, you realise how far spread out it is. While the majority of the volume comes from the top metro cities, it is interesting to see the spread of consumption. And when you break it down state wise and district wise, it is quite phenomenal to see where all the traffic is coming from. It has been mesmerising.

What is the average English subscriber paying?

Typically, I would like to say that if you keep Netflix out of the equation, it would add up to Rs 100-120 per customer. Netflix is such an outlier with their rates that if they are added, the average goes up. They are at the far edge of the spectrum.

What were the best performing shows or assets on your platform?

‘The Big Bang Theory’ is the best performing show for sure. It has a great loyalty and fan following in India. A fortnight ago we did a simulcast of the finale of the show with the US timing. What was amazing is that we had fans coming from Tier 2 and 3 towns who had heard that we were doing a screening and they travelled to Mumbai, where we did the screening. When the finale of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ was simulcast on our platform, we saw a 53 per cent uptick in traffic for that period.

We also have an iconic DC library of shows like ‘Flash’ and ‘Arrow’, which have tremendous traction. Recently, we acquired the series ‘Two and A Half Men’.

The next that we will be doing is localising our entire catalogue in different Indian languages. After that, we will explore an original content strategy.

What are your growth targets?

India is a phenomenal market to be in. There are many players who are trying to establish themselves. This is a transient phase and the dust will settle down at some point in time. In that environment to craft a communication and trying to reach out to the universe is not a good idea. I think the biggest differentiator between any two platforms is the content. The technology is replicable to some extent, although there are parts of it like the learning AI which may be different. By and large you can have the same look and feel. Everyone has some differentiation in content, whether it is Netflix or Amazon, where they have some Hindi original shows. If you look at it, we are a 100 per cent English platform and the new content that we will putting on our platform will compel us to roll out some communication.

We are aggregating content from different parts of the world and not restricting ourselves to the US. We also work with the BBC, Endemol Shine and PVR for content.

I think a tipping point has arrived in content consumption in India. The year 2017 saw a telecom revolution with the launch of Jio, I think 2019 will be the tipping point for content. The amount of time spent is going up, the consumer is open to different genres of content. That should add up before we launch our next campaign. 

So far, we haven’t done a full-fledged marketing campaign. That will be the next stage that you will see from HOOQ.



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