It was a rather warm afternoon, when we walked into the buzzing and enthusiasm-injected premises of Eros Now. Eros, over the years, has weaved some evergreen stories on celluloid. The company is now gung-ho about disrupting the web entertainment space by launching high quality content that caters to diverse audience interests.
Amidst the creative hustle-bustle was Ali Hussein, serene and sensible.
“Hi, good to meet you,” greeted Ali, with grace and dignity.
“I am good, nice office,” I said, while settling for a long chat over a black coffee.
Ali, who currently wears the badge of COO at Eros Digital, is a doyen in the space of media & entertainment. After Google, Viacom 18 and many other companies where he has made a professional mark, he is now on a mission to set new standards for digital initiatives at Eros Now.
Here’s sharing an excerpt from the free-wheeling chat.
You have stated, in a statement, that you aim for Eros Now to become the biggest player in the OTT and media entertainment space. So, what are your immediate and long-term plans to achieve it?
We are in the SVOD kind of business, and are currently defining the consumer relationship with Eros Now. It is the hardest part of the job, but we are focusing on it, as it’s a long term game that we are playing. So, when we say ‘the biggest player in the OTT business’, we mean a high pinnacle of content. Secondly– leverage our strength, that of a formidable movie collection. People are used to paying to watch a movie across mediums. That’s the core fibre of an Indian consumer. Next, of course, are our soon to be released originals, which will be high quality storytelling. Thus, the combination of movie collection plus originals will make Eros a leading player in the market.
There is a sudden surge of web entertainment churning in India.Do you feel it’s cacophonous or constructive?
It’s good; and constructive, most definitely, for all the signs are very healthy for a better future. There are still some infrastructural challenges, which companies like JIO are addressing aggressively. Once technology evolves and accessibility increases, end consumers will consume more video data. Having said that, payments still remain a challenge, but it’s about the culture to pay for content, a certain stigma attached to it, which has to change for the better. Thus, the right marketing, to educate people on web entertainment consumption is necessary, for it will lead to habit change from linear to on-demand. I think this is the best space to be in.
Talking about the digital movie sphere: do you feel people will enjoy the experience of watching movies on a mobile?
Let me address this question. Films are all about genres.Certain movies you would like to watch on your own, and certain, with your family & friends. This pattern will most definitely not change. The culture of theatrical experience will continue, as it is more about spending good time with family on a weekend. We are not here to challenge that habit. We are providing an avenue to consume content, which is more individualistic in nature. The consumption pattern is as per one’s taste & preference. Now, this is one aspect of watching shows and movies on the mobile. Please note that, with Smart TVs, people are streaming apps on the small screen as well. So it’s very seamless now. Eros Now has its movie originals in Meri Nimmo and people have watched it. Signs are all very positive and encouraging.
Noted. So, moving on…what is your thought on the ultimate business model for the web entertainment business?
To answer that, I would like to state that advertising has to be seen differently in the digital space. Pre-rolls and mid-rolls don’t fit in here. The freemium model is workable, where audiences pay for good content that is backed by some advertising. Now, e-commerce can be thrown in as value add, but that cannot be a core business model. One should evaluate one’s content strength and audience, and weave plans accordingly.
The culture of theatrical experience will continue, as it is more about spending good time with family on a weekend. We are not here to challenge that habit. We are providing an avenue to consume content, which is more individualistic in nature
What is Eros Now’s content philosophy pertaining to originals?
Top of the funnel; from a creative and narrative stand point, that’s going to be one of the key areas. Genres would be across– we have got comedy, fiction thrillers– it’s a wide range. We are at the stage when we want to learn and evolve. Eros, as a company, has never dealt with the episodic nature of content; this is the first time we will be getting into the space. We will invest across genres to improvise. Creative depth, high-quality casting and performances, badge value IPs, are what we aim to do at Eros Now.
Any thoughts on web censorship?
(thinks) The government will have to make rules and take steps that will be good for the overall ecosystem. From our perspective, we have definite guiding lights to ensure that there is a certain sanctity to the content. Having said that, we will follow whatever rules & regulations we are asked to follow. Smart, creative people don’t need to use unnecessary sex and cuss to draw audiences. A 3Idiots is still a huge hit. Taare Zameen Par is also a beautiful narrative.
Could you talk about the challenges of your business?
To begin with, piracy is a big challenge. As an industry, we need to address it. Another aspect is that, in the past, we have given lot of content for free. Hence, a habit is created, and we need to educate people to pay for good content across mediums. Finally, we also need to work technically on the aspect of discovery of good content. There are multiple choices available, but the discovery has to be better.
Eros, as a company, has never dealt with the episodic nature of content; this is the first time we will be getting into the space. We will invest across genres to improvise. Creative depth, high-quality casting and performances, badge value IPs, are what we aim to do at Eros Now
Who are you competing with and whom are you collaborating with?
We are collaborating with almost everyone. However, technically, everyone in the OTT space is competing with each other. Eros Now has a strong distribution network; thus, our content has legs to travel. Collaboration is the key DNA of the company and we will adhere to it.
When not busy working, how do you unwind?
I spend time with my family. I have a beautiful daughter. I personally also believe in mind, body, soul. So fitness is important for me, and then I travel as and when there is opportunity.
So what is your business mantra?
Honesty is key: be honest to yourself, your company, the people you are working with, everyone. Because, somewhere in the business of media, we have forgotten what honesty is.
Final words for our readers…
Keep watching Eros Now (smiles).