The Viacom18 building in Mumbai overlooks the Western Express Highway at a crucial junction. There is an exit that takes you to Andheri. Skip it and the road takes you to the far reaches of North Mumbai. Seasoned Mumbaikars will tell you, Andheri is a suburb best known for its cacophony and traffic snarls. After 5 pm, the junction is hit the worst. There is no movement. On Google Maps, that exit takes on a dark hue of red. The best way to get past it is to get there early. First-mover advantage, literally.

There is a parallel to be drawn between Viacom’s Voot, an over-the-top (OTT) app and web-based video platform, and this highway junction. Voot has hit this junction during rush hour. There’s a flood of players competing for 66 million Indian eyeballs, according to a Frost & Sullivan report. Internally, Voot admits that the number is closer to 20 million users, which should grow to 150 million in the next five years. Hopefully. And these users, Voot claims, have a watch time of 45 minutes during the best of days. The entire industry in Asia Pacific is set to touch $35 billion in revenue by 2021 and India, along with three other countries, will comprise 17% of that. The Indian market, according to the same report, is expected to clock revenue worth $1.2 billion.

Currently, this market is split into content owners such as Hotstar, Voot, Sony LIV and Alt Balaji. There are technology companies such as YouTube and Amazon. And telecom firms such as Jio and Airtel; a global video giant, Netflix and aggregators like YuppTV. And then there are movie studios such as Eros. All of them, and 45 minutes.

So how does Voot plan to win?

Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, doesn’t like the word win. There is no podium finish. But he thinks that organically Voot will be one of the most watched platforms in India. How does Voot plan to do that? It has an ad-based business model, which means viewers watch its programming for ‘free’. For Voot’s customers, i.e., advertisers, there’s a user base, primarily between the ages of 18-35, to sell their products. Viacom 18 also has one of the most popular TV channels, Colors TV, in its arsenal to lure catch-up viewers. But then others have that advantage as well, including Sony and Zee TV. In fact, Star has all of that and sports. However, Voot’s story will be interesting because it believes it can beat the odds. Primarily because the market in India is unique. In the US, there are a handful of companies with cash to burn that are trying to crack the video market: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Go.

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AUTHOR

Patanjali Pahwa

Patanjali has spent over seven years in journalism. He last worked at Business Standard as Principal Correspondent, where he wrote on startups, e-commerce companies and venture capital. He has worked at an array of institutions, which include Forbes India, Caravan and Outlook Business. He is a Mumbaikar, born and brought up. Patanjali did his BSc in IT from Mumbai University and then got his journalism degree from IIJNM in Bangalore. He is enamoured by Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits and may try to sneak in references to them in his stories.

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