In conversation with ALTBalaji CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya on foraying into digital space

Balaji Telefilms, the production house that has been munching stereotypical saas-bahu sagas in the name of entertainment for quite some time now, seems to have come of age.

Catching up with the trend of going digital, Balaji has come up with a digital platform called ALTBalaji, which they say houses the biggest library of original exclusive digital content in India.

With varied shows that cater to a different audience than Balaji’s usual, the platform has had an overwhelming response, says CEO Nachiket Pantvaidya, adding that they have got close to four million downloads and customers from more than 80 countries.

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Unlike other players in the industry that offer viewers a free period to watch their shows, ALTBalaji provides them with free episodes of every show on YouTube, and when they like it and want to proceed with further episodes, they can subscribe to the service.

Pantvaidya feels that even though rival platforms were launched before ALTBalaji, their timing couldn’t have been better because of demonetisation and Reliance Jio’s launch, which made an average Indian more digital- and internet friendly.

Talking of the future, Pantvaidya says that India is still afar from the time when internet would replace television, but digital entertainment channels still have three defined types of audience to cater to: Indian men, who don’t have anything to watch on the television; people who would like to watch a finite series with limited episodes; and lastly, audiences who want to see better production values, which sadly Indian television can’t provide because of the compulsion of daily episodes.

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To gain massive success, he says that digital entertainment platforms need to create a habit of OTT viewing in Indian audience, and have affordable subscription plans to further attract them. Also, commitment to good characters and good stories is important as well.

About the transition from television to internet, he says that the transition required us to deep-dive and come up with shows that were not typically Balaji-types, in order to create a variety.

When asked why there’s a sudden shift from television to internet, he credits the speed and spread of internet and the technology of internet-ready devices, which has led to people watch digital shows at great speed, from anywhere across the country, and on bigger screens as per their preference.

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While Balaji has been stereotyping women and men in gender roles for as long as we remember, ALTBalaji, Pantvaidya suggests, is doing the opposite by bringing out female characters that defy these stereotypes.

In Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat, Sakshi Tanwar’s character is a single, working woman who is committed to her profession. In the female-centric show of DevDD, lead character Devika is taking on the system, standing up for women and their right to express themselves. Even in Bewafaa sii Wafaa, the female lead Meghna, played by Aditi Vasudev, has an affair, which you won’t see in any of the shows that Balaji has produced.

While we don’t agree with the idea that in order to appear modern and unconventional, a woman needs to have an extramarital affair, we understand what he means by saying that the women in these shows are different from their television counterparts.

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Speaking of the financial aspects of these web series, they work on a subscriber model and not an advertising model. Therefore, they need to give it some time to work to return money. While they get new subscriptions every month, they are also coming up with a new show every 15 days, so it’s difficult to decide as of now if a particular show is financially working or not. About a year or so down the line, they might also have some way to measure the success of individual shows, but it’s too soon to talk about that, signs off Pantvaidya.

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