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Content platform WittyFeed has now landed on 'Stage' after trying hands at 'CatchUp' after the Facebook fiasco. In November 2019, WittyFeed had rebranded itself into Nukkad by Stage. It had also launched an artist-led and dialect-based OTT platform, Stage.

In November 2018, WittyFeed's world toppled when Facebook decided to pull the plug on the content platform's page, which had over 4.2 million followers back then. That day, the co-founders of the company realised how volatile their business model was, and it was a mistake to rely on third-party platforms to grow business. And hence, the quest of WittyFeed to control their destiny gave birth to 'CatchUp', which was more of a 'rebound strategy'.

Finally, with 'Stage', the founders are very confident that this time they have got the game right as the insights they gathered during the 'CatchUp' phase have given birth to Stage, which is hyper-localised and has professionally generated content for 'Bharat'. 

Vinay Singhal, Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Stage, said, "Stage is a dialect-based short-form content OTT for the billions of users in the form of comedy, poetry, storytelling, folk and motivational content. Stage is committed to bringing original content in Indian dialects that showcase the depth, history, honesty, and integrity of Bharat."

When the Facebook fiasco happened, and WittyFeed launched CatchUp, Vinay Singhal, Co-Founder of the company told BuzzInContent.com that the reason why Facebook pulled the plug was because two or three of the influencers who used to work with WittyFeed used Bitcoin wallet to make payments for Facebook ads. The social media giant wanted them to share personal information of these influencers, and somehow things didn't work out between the platform and Facebook.

But in June 2019, WittyFeed recovered its page from Facebook. Singhal said, "Facebook realised they had made a mistake in deleting our content. But by that time, we were sure that we would not build the same old WittyFeed business at all. We had a new vision to chase, which was to build a premium and sensible content company for Bharat. We wanted to align WittyFeed with the vision of premium and sensible content. In the last eight months, it evolved at its own pace. Now Stage is a company itself, and WittyFeed is a product within Stage, which is now renamed as Nukkad by Stage."

Creating Stage for Bharat

Earlier, WittyFeed used to create content like Buzzfeed. It used to have global stories and audience from America as well. Taking the Facebook fiasco as an opportunity, the founders got a chance to rebuild the company from scratch.

Talking about the insight that made the founders to create a content platform for the people of Bharat, Singhal said, "We founders come from 'Bharat'. Parveen (second co-founder) and I grew up in a tiny village in Haryana. Shashank (the third co-founder) grew up in a small town near Indore. We built the entire company from Indore. Therefore, Bharat has always been essential to us. But the product that we were making earlier was for the American audience. The Bharat story grew with the growth of internet penetration post the Jio launch in India. We finally found an opportunity to build something for Bharat. We started to look into the problems that exist in Bharat."

Most of the top content apps that existed were mainly Chinese and UGC-led, before the government ban on Chinese apps. Singhal said that in the name of UGC, most of them did filthy and sleazy content. "I consider myself as a Bharat audience, my family is from Bharat, and if this is the case, why are we looking to consume only this kind of content? Are these apps even sufficing the content needs that we have? Does Bharat deserve only UGC and filthy content? Or there is space to do more. The answer to that became the vision of the company. Bharat wants better content, but no one is creating it for them. There is no company creating professional content for Bharat (PGC). Therefore, the vision became to build a sensible and premium content company for Bharat," he said.

(L-R): Parveen Singhal, Vinay Singhal, Shashank Vaishnav

Stage is built on three insights:

1. It's the game of dialect

Singhal said that when people talk about Bharat, the next sentence they would use is vernacular. But the first insight that the company derived is that it isn't a game of language, but dialect.

"The basic common languages are only spoken in the cities because over there people need a common language to understand each other. And that is where the language becomes relevant. In Rajasthan, people speak in 2-3 different dialects like Marwadi, Shekhawati and others. In UP, you'll find Khariboli, Braj, Bundelkhandi, Awadhi and Bhojpuri. In Bihar, there is Bhojpuri, Maithleyi, Maghayi and others. In MP, people speak Malwi, Nimadi, Indori, Bhopali. In Maharashtra, people speak Konkani, Kolhapuri, Malwani. Like this, every language in the country has different dialects. If we remove the urban bias, one will have to build products in dialects and not in languages."

2. Decreasing attention span

With the consumer attention span decreasing, Stage has decided to create content in short form with 8-10 minutes of video content pieces.

3. Art form-related content

 In Bharat, one gets to see a lot of 'Kavi sammelans' (poetry events), art-based events, Nukkad Naatak (street plays), storytelling and comedy. These are part of the lifestyle of the people in Bharat. "We figured that entertainment for Bharat is artist-led entertainment, which is comedy, poetry, storytelling, folk and motivational content," Singhal said.

The content strategy of Nukkad by Stage

After recovering the page from Facebook, WittyFeed could have launched the same page in the earlier content format. Still, the founders of the company found a massive room for quality informative content creation. Singhal said that news is the most serious form of content, which has, unfortunately, diluted its quality in various ways. On the other hand, new-age media does a lot of dumb entertainment content.

Singhal said, "We decided to create something where we could make informative content go viral and took some experiential insights from our US experience. If you look at content like the Daily Show or John Oliver, its news and information content, but it's mostly in the form of comedy and satire. Like this, we decided to make WittyFeed the Comedy Central for Bharat. We decided to create informative and intelligent content through satire and comedy in the form of weekly shows."

Nukkad offers content in the form of fictional character-led shows under entertainment, politics, health, fake news, tech, culture, sports, lifestyle, and even finance. It aims to bring satire-based content on the lines of popular Comedy Central shows by Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah to India in a language that's inclusive and familiar.

The growth, distribution and monetisation strategy

In the long run, all the content of Nukkad will be available on Stage. Right now, that content is distributed through social media. "Now, we have learnt from our mistakes; Facebook is not our dominant channel. We have Facebook, YouTube, Whatsapp, Telegram. We have collaborated with various apps like sheroes, Imo messenger, Paytm app. We have also collaborated with Samsung phones. We are also there on Instagram, but it isn't a channel of focus for us. We had a huge presence on Helo, but now we have shifted to ShareChat," said Singhal.

The Stage app already has over 400 thousand downloads in Haryana and aims to launch content in Rajasthani dialect by October. By early next year, Stage will have a presence in 3-4 more dialects. For Nukkad, the pace at which the reach is growing is phenomenal. In February, it had 30 million reach, which reached its peak of 150 million in April and is currently settling between 80-100 million. Nukkad's reach is 80-100 million and 45-50 million video views every month.

Singhal added, "Right now, Nukkad is doing two things for us. Firstly, with Nukkad's massive reach, we can monetise it by working with the brands and partnering them. Secondly, in the long run, the brands with whom we are working now would become like a pipeline when we put Nukkad content on Stage in the future and help us monetise."

On the other hand, the OTT platform Stage won't be relying much on brand partnerships, but subscription and tipping. "For example, in Bharat, if there is a Kavi Sammelan, one doesn't have to buy a ticket but tip the artist if he/she likes his performance. We are looking to capture that behaviour," said Singhal.

This time, when Nukkad was launched, it did not have advertisers. "We took a very organic path this time instead of jumping on to monetisation soon after the launch. We thought first to build the product, reach and user base. We went out in the market only January onwards and have got a tremendous response," Singhal told BuzzInContent.com.

Some of the brands that Stage has worked till now are SBI Yono, Truly Madly, Patanjali and Dabur. Singhal added, "We have built an excellent strength in BFSI with 3-4 case studies. We don't have a show in automobile, but because of our experience with WittyFeed, we can work on that front as well. Now, we are trying to build our expertise in real money gaming and alcohol."

Singhal emphasised that the definition of viral content has changed over time, and the marketers need to upgrade themselves. He said, "While most of the brands believe that by making a single video with 2-3 million views is enough for the content to go viral, but a new definition of virality is to create value for your audience, consistently over a period of time, so that they turn into a loyal audience for you."

Stage believes in long-term full-show partnerships. They do have single videos collaboration options as well, but Singhal thinks it doesn't fetch the desired results. He said, "It's a waste of money if you do single videos. One has to hammer again and again, and then only you can achieve results. If the brand wants to build a new property with us with the four characters we have, then they need to do a minimum of three months partnership. Now we also have an offering where we can even design a new character that will have all the features of the brand."

Other than the regular route of promotion of our platform, Stage is planning to build an offline channel of distribution. Stage has partnered a network of 3,000 retail shops in Haryana. All these retail shops will become Stage's brand ambassadors. "Whoever comes to their shops, the shopkeepers tell them about our app, help them install the app. The money that we spend on online acquisition will be given to them. In the long-run, it comes out much cheaper," Singhal said.

Content@BuzzInContent.com