Recently, Viacom18 announced that it will stream Bigg Boss, its marquee property, on its OTT platform Voot before airing it on TV. The show’s 15th season is slated to go live in August 2021, six weeks ahead of its launch on Colors.
We caught up with Gourav Rakshit, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, to understand the reason behind the big launch on digital, the sponsorship scenario and the impact this move could have on its TV viewership.
Why did you decide to launch Bigg Boss, your biggest property, on digital before TV?
Bigg Boss was certainly a bold choice but we had many of its seasons already running on Voot. This gave us a good sense of how consumers are excited to watch it, and engage with the platform and its perks. It became an opportunity to create a digital-first property where viewers get full access to exclusive cuts, round-the-clock content drops and live feeds from the house. The desire to push the envelope and the strong confidence from the past seasons were two of the main reasons.
How will you look to attract people to watch Bigg Boss on TV, given all the perks of its digital streaming?
The Colors audience watches Bigg Boss exclusively on Voot. They even catch up on the platform since life gets in the way and they don’t get to watch it on TV always. We’re not attracting a whole new audience. There will be some viewers that have never used OTT streaming services before but there’s also a large cohort that was in and out of the system. There are others for whom digital streaming is already mainstream and hence, it’s not going to be as disruptive as a viewing experience. However, the ability to watch a 24x7 live stream is going to be very powerful from the show’s point of view.
How would the middle-aged audiences get better acquainted with OTT and how would it impact TV viewership?
Digital video content has a large audience base. For the association of certain pieces of content, viewers have markers concerning what to watch on TV and what to watch on digital. This wouldn't negatively impact TV viewership because we're not building a whole set of new digital audiences. The only difference is that on TV, we have a 13-15 weeks run and here on OTT, we’re using the template of the West, with a lot more intensity and action in the house for the live feed. That’s the little nuance that we brought in for OTT.
Season 14 launched with 15 sponsors despite the pandemic situation. What is the sponsor mindset and what are the kind of sponsors you're seeing?
We’re out in the market right now and sponsors are not viewing digital streaming as a block. Some like the fact that we’re going to have a six-month season and want to be with us from the start to the end, whereas some are tiptoeing; the six-week headstart allows them to see what works for them. Sponsors change every year, but we’re talking to the same brands and they’re all interested.
For the past couple of years, FMCG brands have been going strong on Voot and we have strong consumer brands. This mirrors the way the TV industry has its splits. What’s new is that certain digital-only players may or might not have attempted television, but are still in the fold. The consumer base here is large, too. Categories like FMCG, consumer durables and white goods brands are all excited. It’s the format and audience that sponsors are looking at. We haven’t had any negative pushback and will do extremely well on sponsorship front.
Tell us a little about your expectations from the digital launch and the challenges you came across while implementing this...
We have to attract at least 3x the eyeballs that we do with TV. Beyond that, there are many new elements. The ability to influence activity live in the house is new and the fact that we’re going six weeks before airing on TV is another bold bet to achieve. Fortunately, this format runs in other parts of the world, and we can take learnings from that. Whenever you do something brand new, there will be butterflies; you just have to make them fly in formation. It’s a big part of our playbook.
For Voot, we have a large content slate that’s going to come through from August to October. This is just a kickoff. Digital momentum and a strong property like Bigg Boss are both growth drivers and I’m very optimistic that this will fly.