Rishika Lulla Singh, CEO of Eros Digital is confident the $50 million investment on original shows will help Eros Now win the OTT battle for eyeballs
By Vinita Bhatia
While many young kids her age were learning to ride a bicycle, Rishika Lulla Singh already understood the nuances of the media industry. With Kishore Lulla as her father – who is also the executive director and executive chairman and director of Eros International Plc – and Sunil Lulla as her uncle, who is executive vice chairman and MD of Eros India, dinner conversations were often about movies and the entertainment business.
So, when the time came for her to choose a career, many thought she would probably want to be in front of the camera, given her looks and considering that she had completed her PG studies at UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television. In fact, Rishika relates very closely to the oft-repeated statement – my career plans were much more exciting when I was five.
“Like most growing kids, I found quite a few professions fascinating. While the choice of career may have differed with passing years, I was ambitious enough to resolve that I wanted to grow up doing something significant and momentous. I have always been of the opinion that one should watch content/television as per one’s convenience and choice,” she empathically stated.
That is precisely how she decided to get involved with Eros Now. In 2012, when Eros foresaw that the future lay in digital, it seemed the perfect time for the young girl, who was armed with a BA in South Asian Studies and Management from the School Of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, to foray into the business under her father’s guidance. She decided to use her learning from her well-travelled life to create a platform that is consumer friendly and delivers the best of content.
“We have a vast content library, totalling over 4,400 hours of short-form videos, including music videos, trailers, original short exclusive interviews and marketing shorts. Beginning in 2015, with Eros Now’s ‘TV se Pehle Digital’ premiering efforts, Eros Now has digitally premiered 137 films on the platform in nine different languages, including Hindi, English, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Telugu and Punjabi,” Rishika stated. The digital premieres span a wide range of genres, including several popular digitally-premiered films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Bajirao Mastaani, The Lunchbox, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, PK, Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Aligarh.
The mounting shift in viewer habits has been largely supplemented by improvements in streaming infrastructure, better broadband connectivity and availability of smartphones at reasonable costs. Increasingly, in addition to the conventional DTH or cable subscription for their home TVs, viewers are showing a growing inclination to subscribe to OTT services, especially for their digital devices.
Realising the changing dynamics of the Indian television industry, many production companies like, Balaji Telefilms, T-Series, Viacom18, as well as Eros International decided to invest in creating a robust OTT platform as well as in creating quality content exclusively for this channel.
Explaining the decision behind this foray, Rishika said “Eros remains the only fully vertically integrated independent studio model within the industry, with the largest library and over 30% market share of the top 100 box office hits over the last decade. Our large library and ability to monetise it through our distribution network has always been the core strength at the heart of our company and the people.”
Eros has been at the forefront of technology adoption, starting from the days when it was amongst the earliest distributors of VHS from India more than four decades ago. Hence, when the advent of streaming services started creating disruption in the entertainment space with revenue from films set to be outnumbered by digital, the company decided that the time had come to take a digital plunge.
“As per a recent joint report by EY India and FICCI, the Indian film industry is expected to cumulatively clock in revenues of INR 19,200 crore by 2020, as compared to INR 22,400 for digital in the same period. With online video consumption on the rise, the increasing digital disruption will definitely affect every aspect of the traditional content ecosystem,” Rishika rationalised about the company’s assessment to enter into the OTT territory.
Rishika Lulla Singh is the CEO of Eros Digital, which covers all of the digital initiatives for Eros, including Eros Now. She has been instrumental in spearheading the growth and development of Eros Now within India and globally. Lulla holds a BA in South Asian Studies and Management from the School Of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and has completed her postgraduate studies at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television. She has done several placements at prestigious global financial firms, including CitiBank, Grant Thornton and RBS.
CREATING COMPELLING NARRATIVES
Eros Now had a soft launch in 2012 followed by official announcement three years later. What is interesting, though, is that from day one, it chose to become a technology-driven company and focused on testing programmes and programming based on user recommendations.
“We analyse market trends to gauge who is watching what, current social/political/economic trends in the country and of course, we look at a lot of IP – old or new. From news articles to historical, political events, mythology, sci-fi, existing/new books, existing shows, we deep dive into our catalogue of films and how we can create some good content from that. We have a very holistic approach in terms of how we pick and choose our content,” Rishika explained.
Additionally, the company makes it a point to analyse market trends regularly. It compiles a lot of data to test the potential of its content and how other shows are performing. Data is an intrinsic part of its decision-making and metadata of its existing content is fed into systems to learn about viewership habits and the time spent on various existing programmes. “We constantly review what we can do better and what our competitors have done well. Our slate will release very soon, so that’s another process yet to begin,” Rishika stated.
ASSESSING CONTENT OPTIONS
The company has a writers’ room for a few years now, which it uses as its idea incubator. This has worked well for it – not only does it get fresh, inventive content, but it is also able to support new emerging talent who bring a different perspective to how one typically looks at content.
“India is a huge market and there is a massive fragmented audience who have a taste for a variety of content. So, there is a huge demand for different stories. We take pride in being a one-stop shop for entertainment, so we have a lot of demands to meet,” Rishika claimed.
Apart from Indian diaspora abroad, considering the robust internet penetration in India, Eros Now aims to be the source of entertainment in 100 cities across the country, up from its current penetration of 50 cities. This is a significant expansion aimed at capturing an even larger audience, which will in turn support its continued growth into the future.
To gain control on the digital reins in the OTT business, one can’t lose sight of the large regional market that exists in the country, which seeks content in their local language. After all, 1.3 billion Indians speak as many as 23 languages in India and abroad. The Indian diaspora, especially, have a huge appetite for local entertainment and the demand for content in multiple languages has only been growing.
With her finger firmly on her viewers’ pulses, Rishika has ensured that Eros Now already has a stronghold on regional content. “Hindi and regional films available on OTT platforms in India comprise 93% of the total division, while only 7% are foreign language films. Out of the 93% of films in our library, around 60% of films are in Hindi and the remaining comprises films from other regional languages,” she added.
India’s OTT video market is growing at a CAGR of around 23%, according to a PwC report. It also said that the OTT video revenue in the country, which was pegged at INR 2,019 crore in 2017 is likely to reach INR 5,595 by 2022.
Eros Now claims to have the largest market share of premium Indian OTT film content with over 70% of market share with digital rights to over 11,000 films, of which approximately 5,000 are owned in perpetuity. The company asserted that active customers on its platforms complete watching a film in two sessions and currently its library comprises content across nine different
languages. In 2018-19, its slate of 24 films will include 14 Hindi films, one Tamil/Telugu film and nine regional films.
For the fiscal 2018-19, Eros Now is planning to launch over 50 premieres, which will comprise feature films, made-for-digital original films and original episodic programmes. These will be available exclusively to paid subscribers. Three original series – Flip, Smoke and Side Hero – will be launched by the end of September, 2018.
THE BIG PICTURE
For over four decades, Eros has entertained viewers with compelling content, within India and abroad. With Eros Now, it is now positioning itself to dominate the global entertainment market by meeting the needs of users worldwide who are hungry for original and regional content.
To drive this, the OTT player will have a consistent and strategic focus on its technology layer. Besides investing in a prolific in-house technology team, it is also all set to launch a couple of industry-first products in the next couple quarters.
Towards this end, it is focused on bringing ‘all round entertainment’ to their viewers. “As a part of this plan, you will see the addition of new genres in Eros Now, like tie-ups to use famous characters, a broader focus on sports – similar to our recent alliance with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in IPL 2018, and other opportunities to fulfill the ever-growing entertainment appetite of global consumers,” Rishika revealed.
The collaboration with RCB was a part of the company’s endeavour to build a truly digital video brand with Indian users and provide the best of entertainment the country has to offer. Similarly, the company has existing partnership with brands across various sectors like banks, lifestyle and FMCG, and it intends to work with leading brands like LG Electronics, Roku, Vodafone, PayTm, Gold’s Gym, etc.
The idea to cover the length and breadth of the industry to create products that will add value to sponsors as well as its viewers, can be traced back to Rishika’s earlier work stints at prestigious financial firms, like CitiBank, Grant Thornton and RBS. Her time there, helped her understand processes and practices that she can implement at Eros Digital to accomplish her professional as well as personal goals.
“The time that I committed to these organisations were important stepping stones in developing knowledge and competencies and enhancing my experience, which helped me groom myself for my role in the digital arena. The ability to think big and stay positive are some valuable lessons that have helped shape the person I am today,” she recalled.
Some of the learnings from these institutions that she has recreated at Eros Now, includes building an environment that provides freedom to express, create and implement. She feels it is important that the team feels empowered to achieve above and beyond professional and personal capacities. Stringent HR compliance policies and rewarding employees through a fair appraisal system at Eros Now ensures the gains are strictly based on performance, targets and achievements without any gender bias. These changes have given the team members liberty to think out of the box, which is priority in in the media and entertainment field, where the objective is to always provide viewers with innovative creatives and an enhanced consumer experience.
CARVING A NICHE
The entry of Netflix was said to be a game-changer for the OTT business. Amazon Prime upped the ante when it burst into the Bollywood realm giving indigenous brands like Hotstar, Sony LIV, Voot, etc., some cause for concern. Did Eros Now, too, feel threatened by these global players?
Rishika maintained that since Eros has been in the movie business for long and understands content consumption patterns and the consumer’s needs, it is able to take that learning and build a customer brand itself. “Our USP is film and entertainment and that is where we sit strongest in terms of our library volume. We have 11,000+ plus films on our platform, which is about 60% to 70% market share,” she affirmed.
At the same time, to create content that its viewers can binge-watch, the company wants to launch global concepts that will entertain and connect with the audiences across genres like sci-fi, thriller, comedy, drama, etc., and regional languages. In sync with this plan, it plans to spend $50 million on its original shows, which is scheduled to go live with more than 10 originals in 2018. In terms of production quality, these will be on lines of what people would experience cinematically.
It recently launched its first worldwide direct-to-digital original film, Meri Nimmo, in association with director Aanand L Rai. From March 2017 to June 2018, Eros Now had 33 exclusive digital premieres on the platform, including Munna Michael, Mukkabaaz, Baar Baar Dekho and Sarkar 3. It also launched a short film, Toffee, directed by Tahira Kashyap, and 25 August, directed by Gautam Parvi, starring Rajat Kapoor, Arjun Mathur, Sayani Gupta, Gauri Balaji.
Talking about this content pipeline, Rishika said, “We believe that the millennial audience is drastically underserved. The youth across tier-2 and 3 markets in the country, especially, have limited or no exposure to qualitative entertainment that is relevant to them. Our larger strategy is to stay at the top of the funnel with our peak programming and ensure we drive more reach and time spent. We will identify and develop that content consistency leading to a creating that viewer habit.”
She envisions brand Eros to continue representing superlative entertainment. “As we endure to create ripples in the industry and transforming ourselves into a digital entertainment company, we aim to be the preferred choice of the consumer by offering them what they want, when they want and where they want,” she confidently added. More power to her as she gears up for the battle for eyeballs.