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On one hand, one of the important reasons for audiences to consume OTT content is to watch ad-free content. 

On the other hand, with the growing cost of content acquisition, stiff competition to gain subscriptions and other expenses, India’s leading OTT platforms like MX Player, Zee5, Disney+ Hotstar and Sony Liv have upped their game on the brand partnerships front to increase revenue. 

But to ensure that the audience’s content consumption experience is not hampered through advertising, OTT platforms are resorting to more branded content collaborations rather than focusing on ads. 

Even brands understand this and are demanding for content integrations over placing ads on OTT. In this way, the audience’s content consumption experience is not disrupted much,  brands can get undivided audience attention, seamlessly promote themselves without being pushed and OTT platforms can make their money.

In this story, spoke to leading Indian OTTs to understand how their audience is reacting to branded content on their platform. Does it hamper their audience’s content experience or are they fine with brand integrations?

Rajiv Bakshi

Rajiv Bakshi, Chief Operations Officer - Revenue, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, shared Zee5 has witnessed a strong buy-in from the viewers for branded content. He said, “We have received a positive response from the audiences on both passive and active integrations.” 

He emphasised that with the growing content business, brands will have to step up and look at creating successful IPs which will help be a catalyst for their journey. “We have noticed that more brands are interested in creating specific branded content and I believe this will only grow and become an integral part of every brand’s marketing strategy,” he added.

Pankaj Malani

Pankaj Malani, Senior Director - Brand Partnerships, MX Studios of MX Player, commented that  this distinction of whether the content is made with brand support or otherwise is only made by folks who are from the industry, viz., agencies, brands, etc. Regular users do not bifurcate between the two. 

“For the audience, it is only content which they will watch, and if they like it, they will binge on it, and if they don't like it, they won't consume it. Users do not watch content from a different lens. They just want the content to be good and entertaining,” Malani said. 

Ranjana Mangla

Sony Liv’s Ranjana Mangla, Head of Ad Sales Revenue, believes that when advertisers create stories around the right kind of content, audiences consume it coherently adding value for the brands. 

She explained it further, “Let me highlight a recent one done for Eatfit on Shark tank. The show serves as a platform for budding entrepreneurs to take their businesses to the next level. They all have gone through a journey that tests their mettle, patience and hunger to succeed. We developed an exclusive series of content between these pitchers and our anchor to catch highlights of their journeys with an emphasis on their motivation, challenges and desires to develop a befitting special segment for Eatfit called “ Kuch Karne Ki Bhook”. We also create a prominent presence of branded videos on our show pages and get excellent traction.”

Not just national OTT players, but even regional OTT players are seeing an immense scope of growth from branded content. Being a fairly new platform, Planet Marathi has already worked with several brands for integrations and has many projects in the pipeline. 

Akshay Bardapurkar

Sharing a different perspective on the topic, Akshay Bardapurkar, Producer and Founder, Planet Marathi, said that brand integrations do irritate audiences. But to make money, OTT platforms resort to it. He said, “Honestly, people don’t like it. No OTT is making money. It’s only a valuation game. Every single OTT is bleeding at the moment. As of today, if my audience is suffering a bit due to brand placement, it’s fine as long as we are making money.”

He further said, “We too started on an SVOD format. But running an OTT involves a lot of costs including acquisition, marketing and others. So we decided to launch transactional videos on demand and bring onboard advertisers other than just relying on subscriptions. Like this, we started doing branded content.”

Branded content: key revenue driver for OTT platforms

Bakshi told that on the revenue front, branded content contributes significantly to the overall revenue generation of Zee5.

He commented, “There is a significant demand from clients for content-led innovations on Zee5. As the Indian OTT landscape is at a growing stage, marketers are exploring this space and are receptive to new ideas.” 

Functioning on a complete AVOD model, branded content on MX Player too is on a growth path with every passing year, but Malani emphasised that there is still some time before branded content surpasses advertising revenue on OTT.

He said, “Branded content on MX Player has been on a YoY growth path. A specialised team, MX Studios was created to make sure there is a clear focus on this category. As of now, like most OTTs and channels, the share of advertising is still higher than branded content revenue. There’s still time left before branded content surpasses advertising revenue.” 

Even Mangla of Sony Liv said that the platform’s growth has been exponential on the back of a strong content narrative. We have seen a substantial increase in our audience size. It's very difficult for us to break down the revenue but it's a substantial part of what we do at Sony which also reflects in our revenue.”

She went on to say, “Branded content on OTT is a very differentiated opportunity for the advertisers and particularly on Sony LIV, it offers deep associative value. Every time a brand comes to us with a brief, the task is very specific to integrate deeply with our content because our content is very easy to integrate due to its nature. As a result of that, brands find many positive moments within our storyline to connect whether you are talking about KBC, Shark Tank India, Indian Idol, Kapil Sharma, Masterchef India or any other format show. So, branded content has moved into the space of seamlessly integrated associative value that we are able to deliver to our brands.”

Currently, branded content contributes 10% of the total revenue at Planet Marathi. Bardapurkar stated that he sees the share of the revenue from branded content growing to 80% in the next few years.

He added, “ It won’t be a surprise if you see new OTTs coming up only for branded content.”