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Web-Only Shows To Take Off In India

India’s Digital Superstar, a 14-week online-only talent hunt staged by FremantleMedia in collaboration with two local startups, ZengaTV and OneDigital Entertainment, represents a new twist on the talent show format.

The promise of budding entertainers, from comedians to contortionists, will be measured against shares and likes for their videos across Facebook, YouTube and Zenga, a domestic mobile video streaming service, culminating in a Rs2 million (US$32,000) prize awarded at a grand finale in May, to be held in Mumbai.

The new talent show is also OneDigital’s biggest original production yet, both in terms of scale as well as sponsorship money secured upfront, signalling rapid growth ahead for made-for-web video in India.

India’s Digital Superstar is the fourth brand-supported show for OneDigital, a sister company for Zenga that began life in November 2012, helping established celebrities promote their own content and franchises online.

Now the company is looking to ratchet up original productions to 8-10 more this year, buoyed by rising commercial and consumer interest in video entertainment.

“We will see a boom in the digital video space, this year and next year,” predicts OneDigital’s COO and co-founder, Gurpreet Singh.

Content Needs To Be Found

Brand support is crucial, providing funds that can help bring easily missed video channels to the attention of a wider audience. A good slice of sponsor money from India’s Digital Superstar, for example, will be invested in marketing the show on digital and non-digital platforms.

Key elements to fast-track the development of original video in India are finally falling into place, Singh says, following a spell of challenging economics for this emerging sector in recent years.

“The biggest issue is not to create original content, but to get it discovered,” Singh tells Media Business Asia. “We get shocked sometimes to see great content on YouTube with just 200 views."

That’s why OneDigital started with mainstream content, he adds. "If you see our client list right now, from Honey Singh to Sanjeev Kapoor to Sunny Leone, these are all traffic magnets. We started creating content with them.”

Fanbases of already popular celebrities provided OneDigital with a foundation to promote lesser known artists within the same genre, as well as different kinds of content. After 12 months, the company was generating enough traffic to merit its first self-produced show.

“That is a formula that worked for us,” Singh says. “A lot of companies started with original content but the economics didn’t work. Today, we are getting big-time into original production.”

A Broader Revenue Base

OneDigital, a YouTube-certified multichannel network or MCN, is also expanding on other fronts, branching out into content syndication and artist management, while making plans for four more studios this year  for its own shows as well as content for its partners  adding to existing facilities in Delhi and Mumbai.

An overseas office in UAE is also on the cards, capitalizing on the popularity of OneDigital's Malayalam content among South Indian expats in the Middle East.

As with other MCNs in growth markets, overseas audiences command higher CPMs for OneDigital, delivering a hefty contribution to the bottom line.

Now, the domestic market seems to be finding its feet. A higher profile for online video at home is attracting both talent and audiences, which in time should help bring down production costs and strengthen revenue, both from licensing and advertising.

Customers also include traditional TV channels, such as Viacom’s Comedy Central, which airs web-made vignettes taken from its YouTube channel on OneDigital's MCN, Comedy Central India Originals.

At the same time, this year’s rollout of 4G will drive video viewing on mobile phones and tablets. Distinctive online content appeals mainly to metro audiences at present, with people in smaller towns opting for genres they are used to seeing on TV, such as movies and music. In time, content demand will diversify beyond the metros as well.

Singh meanwhile has a clear vision of where near-term commercial opportunities lie, as traction builds around key verticals.

“The first two years were very fluid for us,” he says. “We just latched on opportunities and did multiple things. But now we are pretty clear that music, Bollywood, fashion, comedy and food are primarily the segments to focus on.”

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