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Anirudh Pandita, Aditi Shrivastava and Ashwin Suresh

In the last few years, the content space has become cluttered with the advent of digital content creators and platforms that have huge value to deliver to brands at a less cost in comparison to large, cash-rich media houses. This has also increased the challenges related to monetisation in the industry, not for just the newbies but also for the well-established players. Only the ones with a clear understanding of the audience through data analysis, quick turnaround time and passion are able to survive and monetise well in the industry.

In this scenario, Pocket Aces, the digital entertainment content creation company, has not just survived but has also given old and large media setups a good run for their money. The company has multiplied its revenue 15 times in the last three years. The content platform owns FilterCopy (short videos), Gobble (food and lifestyle videos) and Dice Media (long-form videos), which has helped the company fetch 25x increase in monthly viewership from 20 million views to 0.5 billion.

Recently, the content company secured a funding of Rs 100 crore from Sequoia India, DSP Group, 3one4 Capital, and other prominent investors. With this funding in place, the company plans to invest in technology, content and talent.

The founders, Ashwin Suresh, Aditi Shrivastava, and Anirudh Pandita, talk to BuzzInContent about their content strategy. They also shared some insights about the future of content marketing in India.


Pocket Aces plan to launch three more channels. In what genre they would be? How will they break the clutter?

Suresh: We look for three key criteria when we are thinking about new channels: interest from audiences, differentiated distribution strategy, and strong monetisation potential. We are evaluating several genres right now and we will announce them once we have zeroed in on them. We believe that over the next five years, the Indian internet will welcome new populations, new methods of expression and new technologies. We will be at the forefront of this movement with our new initiatives.

Pocket Aces plans to launch 30 original shows this year. How do you intend to monetise the content? Original content will drive ad revenue only if it is in the space of branded content, else how would an original content break even if it is distributed free?

Shrivastava: We are building capabilities that will allow us to execute 30 shows a year. We will partner with advertisers and/or OTTs for these shows. We have always believed in pursuing models that are sustainable and durable for us, and at the same time provide great value to our partners.

The company also intends to make senior-level hirings. What are your expectations from the prospective hirings?

Pandita: Our culture has been a key differentiator for us and has been a key driver of success, so it is only natural that we are looking for people who can fit into the culture of our company and can enrich it with their own personal and professional experiences. We are reimagining the entertainment industry for the mobile generation and looking for highly energetic, forward-thinking original thinkers to join us on this journey.

The strategy known to us after the recent funding is mostly about the expansion of channels and original content offerings and team building. What’s the roadmap to revenues and sustenance?

Shrivastava: We have grown revenues by 15x in the last three years and have done so in a profitable manner. This is something that remains important for us and we see great growth ahead on this front. We also believe that it is imperative to invest in IP generation, technology and capability building today to ensure that we fully harness the opportunity ahead of us and we will continue to do so.

You have tie-ups with DTH platforms and other digital outdoor screens. Then there is display ad revenue and branded content revenue. Which form of monetisation works most and least for the content creation company?

Pandita: For us, branded content and OTT partnerships are currently the largest contributors to our revenue. We see both these streams growing significantly in the next few years. We will also add new revenue streams that will complement these and help us become a company with diversified sources of revenue.

What is the secret sauce behind Pocket Aces’ success?

Suresh: Our USP is our emphasis on data-informed content creation, our obsession with our consumers, and our deep focus on company culture. Our data-informed content creation process helps us make informed decisions in a business that has traditionally been driven purely by the gut. Digital platforms provide us with a wealth of data that we use to improve our content while our obsession with understanding audience preferences helps us find formats and themes that resonate with large audiences. Lastly, we have created a culture that cultivates various qualities that nurture innovation and make us the most attractive place to work in our industry.

Do you intend to create content for films and TV channels? If yes, then how and for whom. If no, then why not?

Shrivastava: Our focus will remain on being digital-first with a special emphasis on mobile entertainment. That is where we see the biggest gap and that is where we will concentrate.

Pocket Aces generally creates light-hearted entertainment pieces of content. Do you intend to create purpose or cause-driven content?

Suresh: Yes, we are currently working on a whole host of different content which we are excited about. We will bring forth quintessentially Indian stories with universal themes that audiences across the world can enjoy. This is an exhilarating time for Indian content with digital-first creators pushing content boundaries and our team is excited about being at the forefront of this movement.

Monetisation is a challenge for your industry. You are also competing with cash-rich media houses. How are you handling that challenge?

Pandita: Monetisation has been a key strength for us. We have managed to profitably scale monetisation and are confident about doing so in the future as well. We are continuously taking market share from the incumbent media companies because we understand today’s mobile consumer much better. We are serving today’s consumer with a digital-first mindset and are agile with our decision-making. We don’t have legacy businesses or massive cost structures that we are burdened by. We think these will be key advantages as we grow further and provide new entertainment for a new India.

The world is moving towards a subscription-based model. Is it viable for a platform heavily dependent on social media to think in the direction of subscription?

Pandita: It is critical for a company to have a diversified revenue stream and not be dependent on one platform only. To that end, we too have a diversified mix of revenue and will continue to scale different new channels going forward, as well.

How do you intend to up your game in the vernacular content space? Any plans in place?

Shrivastava: A lot of our content is already in Hindi, which is one of the fastest-growing languages on the Indian internet. We are also formulating a robust regional language strategy that helps us build a durable presence there and serve the customer in those markets in the best possible manner.

What are the current challenges that lie ahead for Pocket Aces and how do you intend to resolve them?

Suresh: Scaling culture and maintaining the speed of thought and execution is critical. We are aiming to do this by investing a fair bit in this direction. Hiring right and investing in people is a key priority for the company.

If a brand comes and asks ‘What does Pocket Aces have to offer, which other creators don’t have?’, what will you say?

Shrivastava: Some of our competitors are doing good work and helping create a new ecosystem that takes on slow-moving incumbents. We believe that during this time, we have laid the foundation of a durable business and differentiated from them significantly in the strategic choices we have made.

We have the fastest growth among our peers and have grown our monthly viewership from ~20 million views to 0.5 billion views (a 25x increase!), with a 15x increase in monetisation. We continue to have the best renewal rate on long-form shows as well as some of the highest success rates in terms of monetisation and engagement.

We also differentiated ourselves by betting on interactive, immersive entertainment and emerging gaming behaviour through Loco, a choice that none of our competitors have been able to make. Lastly, our culture remains one of our strongest differentiators, which helps us have one of the lowest churn rates on team members in the industry.

Which are the characteristics of a brand that you would like to stay away from doing business with?

Pandita: If the brand is selling a product that fundamentally clashes with the values of our company then we will often stay away from working with them. We have been lucky that this doesn’t happen too often and most advertisers align with us philosophically.

Are you seeing a trend of decreasing monetisation through branded content and hence more and more content creators are finding other means of monetisation?

Suresh: Our branded content has grown by leaps and bounds. In fact, we expect it to be a key area of growth for us going forward. Like we mentioned earlier, we are adding other streams to our revenue mix to ensure we have a durable, long-lasting business.

Is it the strength of a content creator or the content platform that matters more?

Pandita: Both matter. Without good content, any distribution channel will lose its power over time. Without distribution, the content has no commercial value.

What is the most important part of the content funnel from ideation to analysis of content performance?

Shrivastava: It is critical that in today’s world, you have a data-informed strategy to content creation. Also, the quality of content must be viewed with the right prism.

There are talks in town on consolidation happening in the content space. How do you see the future of content creators and platform when it comes to consolidation?

Pandita: There will certainly be consolidation in the space. For platforms that are in the burn mode, they will reach a point when some platforms can scale revenue and others will burn and die out. For content creators as well, there will be consolidation for complementary audiences, capabilities, and pricing power.

Do you intend to acquire smaller content creators or work in collaboration with them?

Pandita: We are open to both models of engagement.