The year 2013 started off on an extremely disappointing note for me. iStream.com, the VOD play I dreamt about and built, shut down by April and I had to let go of my team.
Even in those dark moments, I left a note that the dream hadn't ended, not by a long yard; and promised to be back.
Whatever was the reason for shutting down iStream, I continued to be a firm believer in the online video space, not on just a whim or an emotion, but the empirical evidence of spiraling consumption.
By the end of 2013, I was back in business, launching Pepper Media, my third venture, as a full-on online video production and distribution hub.
Many people asked me--why don't you start something similar to iStream.com all over again? While I would have wanted exactly that, I knew that the market dynamics hadn't changed at all. The fact that we didn't see another iStream taking shape, proved that point.
The business model for a stand-alone video product continues to be challenging, with Indians not inured to paying for content.
This was even as millions were getting hooked to consuming videos online; and increasingly on handheld devices. India, in fact, has emerged as one of the fastest growing markets for the likes of YouTube, reaffirming my belief in the efficacy of the space.
Be that as it may, the question does remain--while there are eyeballs, and millions of them, is there a really viable and sustainable business model for the online video space?
I would have to say that monetisation continues to be the biggest challenge. The figures are in tens of millions--300 million Internet subscribers, in fact -- but the ad dollars are not exactly pouring in. And, even for the bit that is happening, the rates are ridiculously low, compared to a market like the US.
So what are we missing? Why aren't admonies flowing to a medium that is easily the most transparent? Why aren't brands and media buying houses betting aggressively in a space that is seeing incredible traction amongst consumers?
If you are looking at scale, one needs to discover, or invent, an alternate to the current video monetisation model. I know for sure that this is the elephant in the room for many a VC.
As we strive to build a large multi-channel network (MCN)--bringing together content creators, content owners and celebrities, the key challenge, I know, will be in bringing to the table, the most critical component--the brands.
The answer is not near to seek. But, it could lie in marrying brands with the right content. While it is a given that a bulk of the digital ad spends are moving to online videos, that number is still low compared to the overall ad spend.
I believe that, as someone who has been part of the online video ecosystem for the better part of the last decade, it is our job to lure and entice brands to open their minds, and their purses.
One needs to acclimatise them to real data and to the tangible bang for the buck that online videos garner. It would mean building tools that would help brands build engaged audiences and monitor their influence metrics. It would also mean creating customised decks for brands that would help them analyse the impact of their video campaigns on platforms like YouTube.
If that is what it is going to take, so be it!
In a nutshell, show them there is no better cost-effective alternative to TV campaigns, than taking it online.
Technology will play a key role to help build that perception and simplify the model for brand managers. Technology that will supplement strong content concepts, which brands and audiences can relate to.
So, is the space seeing enough traction?
We have made a beginning, when we launched India's first online reality-show for fashion designers, sponsored by a leading fashion brand. By using a platform like YouTube to build a community of aspiring young fashion designers, we have a concept that a fashion brand can closely relate to.
The happy augury is that many more brands are starting to believe in this model-- one where content creators and brands will come together to build sustainable and monetizable concepts, products and global audiences.
I am very positive this time around, I will make the dream come true--of building a global digital media brand that can spice up the market!
We are in an exciting phase and I promise to share the turns and tribulations of that journey with you.