As the streaming market becomes increasingly saturated and the competition from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and TikTok becomes unavoidable, ZEE5 wants to be seen as the app that does everything. The popular OTT service, which competes with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, will be betting on gaming, short-form videos and hyper-local news to bring more users to the platform.
“From a business perspective, we want to move into space where we are a platform, as opposed to being restricted to an OTT platform,” Rajneel Kumar, Business Head Expansion Projects & Head of Products, ZEE5 India, told indianexpress.com over the phone. “OTT started off with catchup television or with the original content but our ambition has always been to be a super app.”
Kumar, who had previously worked with Viacom18 Media, Balaji Telefilms and Mobile2Win before joining ZEE5 in 2018, says the idea behind the new strategy is to transform ZEE5 into an all-in-one entertainment platform that offers original TV shows and movies, live news, games, and short-form videos. The model is in contrast to how traditional OTT platforms like Amazon Prime Video work. Instead, ZEE5 is trying to become more of what platforms like the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat have become.
“We want to get diverse types of users on the platform, whether by demography, or by usage or by type,” Kumar said, adding that the new model will also allow users to stay on the platform for a longer duration.
‘Video games to be a big differentiator’
Video games are the biggest source of entertainment globally and this is apparently why Kumar wanted a dedicated gaming section on the platform. To begin with, ZEE5 has tied up with Paris-based video game studio Gameloft to bring as many as 10 titles to its video streaming platform. All of those HTML5-based games are in popular genres such as racing, fighting, and puzzles. Kumar says the whole point of having hyper-casual games in the first place is to “create a fun moment” for the user on the platform, rather than having them engage for hours like in the case of Fortnite or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). The dedicated game section on ZEE5 is already live.
The hyper-casual games that are currently available on the platform are non-exclusive, as indicated by Kumar, but ZEE5 is already working with Gameloft to create fresh titles exclusive on the app. Kumar didn’t share the name of the tiles, but he did say the games will be based on their own IPs. “The first step for us is hyper-casual,” he said. “The future extension of it could be into getting into more of the serious games and standalone games.”
‘HyperShorts to take on TikTok’
Another area where Kumar thinks ZEE5 can lead is in short-form videos. Although in beta right now, HyperShorts will allow users to create, share, and view short-form videos that are typically 90 seconds long. “We have the audience on the platform and we have the ability to be able to expose them to a brand-safe environment in which the content can be both created and curated,” he says.
HyperShorts will be integrated within the ZEE5 app, so users don’t have to download a separate app to use the feature. “Imagine it being as an entry button on the main application, and then you will be in a completely different environment while being in the same app where you can create content… where you can view content, but you can follow the content, you can create your profile and so forth, “ Kumar explains.
In a way, HyperShorts will be aimed at TikTok, owned by Chinese technology giant ByteDance. TikTok, which has over 200 million users in India, allows users to post short-form videos with music overlaid.
With the viral short video app TikTok has been under intense scrutiny over its moderation, privacy, and censorship policies in recent months, Kumar said HyperShorts will be better moderated from the content perspective. “We know the issues around moderation and that’s one area we are focusing on,” he said.
While Kumar didn’t divulge too many details around HyperShorts, he did reveal a new feature called digital gifting. It is kind of a monetisation tool where you are able to purchase items and then be able to gift to the stars or influencers to follow.
Kumar said he’s already in discussions with celebrities and influencers to create content on the platform. Kumar along with his team are also working on bringing multiple brands to the platform where they will be able to create their own profiles or sponsor certain kinds of influencers.
HyperShorts will be supported by advertisements, but in the future, ZEE5 wants to transform it into a subscription service.
‘News 2.0 will focus on relevant news’
ZEE5 offers live news on the platform, but Kumar is already thinking about News 2.0, which will bring localised news for users. “You can go and look at any of the national channels but somebody who wants to look at news in Rajasthan…we are going to the level where we have the news relevant to that user which is local for them,” he said.
With News 2.0, Kumar said he is focusing on hyperlocal and relevant news for the users. Kumar didn’t provide many details, he did mention that the portfolio of channels that will be part of News 2.0 will be bigger than the Zee portfolio. Kumar is also looking to bring Text-only news to the platform.
‘Mobile apps important for discovery of content’
Kumar believes the mobile apps are extremely important for how users discover and consume content on the platform. “We have focused extensively on user experience as the first level, content discovery of the second level and within that, what we are looking at is hyper-personalisation.”
Kumar added: “We don’t want to restrict the content into only verticals but we want the discovery of the content, while the user is on the platform.”
ZEE5 has already revamped its brand new app for Android users, while the iOS version will launch shortly. The new mobile apps rely on ZEE5 recommendations as well as AI tagging of metadata.
‘Original content remains a large focus’
Even though Kumar is trying to make ZEE5 be like WeChat and AliBaba., the core of the streaming platform is original content and that will be integral to the strategy. “We have very ambitious plans for both content creation as well as getting new users to the platform,” he said. ZEE5 has already launched over 120 originals and 60 more to be launched this fiscal.
While Netflix and Amazon Prime Video make shows keeping audiences in tier-1 and tier-2 cities in mind, ZEE5 does not do any such differentiation. “We are doing a very diverse range of content and what we have invested in a lot of data science to show us the taste clusters,” he said, adding that these clusters help us in creating content regardless of the ton a user lives in.
Without revealing the total subscriber base, Kumar said subscriptions have grown 2x and over 45 per cent increase in paid viewers. Meanwhile, viewers logging into the service through the connected devices have grown by 80 per cent.
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