EP #38: Mastering OTT User Engagement and Retention Like India’s ZEE5

EP #38: Mastering OTT User Engagement and Retention Like India’s ZEE5

About this Podcast

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected most industries. But, for some industries like OTT, this period has turned out to be a watershed moment. In fact, since March 2020; the average time spent by Indian users on OTT platforms has increased by 30-60%. To understand how an industry leader like ZEE5 is understanding user behavior to deliver personalized user experiences we caught up with Vani Garg Dixit, Head of Customer Lifecycle Management at ZEE5. ZEE5 was launched in 2018 as the video on-demand service run by Essel Group via its subsidiary Zee Entertainment Enterprises. Offering content in 12 Indian languages, ZEE5 has rapidly established itself as India’s Entertainment Super-app.  Vani discusses the following:

  • The genesis and growth story of ZEE5 as a major player in the OTT industry
  • How ZEE5 keeps a firm pulse on evolving user behavior trends, especially during these times
  • How they deploy 1:1 content recommendations & deliver personalized user experiences at different stages of the user lifecycle
  • The future impact of AI, predictive analytics, and harnessing user data to power user retention

Tune in to learn how an industry leader like ZEE5 continues to keep OTT users engaged through the power of personalized user experiences!

Episode Transcripts

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Hi guys, welcome to another insightful episode of the “Martechno beat, a specially curated podcast series powered by “Netcore Smartech”, Here’s where you gain cutting Edge insights from leading marketers, Product champions, and Martech  influencers on all things user growth, Engagement, Retention, and personalization,  I am your host “Pradyut Hande” and joining me today is my co-host “Rahul Bohra”

Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “I am your Co-host “Rahul Bohra” today”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Ladies and gentlemen today, we are joined by a very very special guest “Vani Dixit” Head of “Customer lifecycle management” at “ZEE5”,  One of the top OTT players in India,  In fact, ZEE5  was declared as India’s most desired video streaming brand by TRA’s recently released most desired brand 2020’s report,  Welcome Vani, Great to have you join us today” 

Vani: “Thank you pleasure to be here”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “For our listeners, we just like to introduce “Vani” before we get into the meat of this podcast, “Vani”  is a ‘Senior marketing executive’ with 20 years of leadership expertise having worked across diverse industries such as OTT, FMCG, Retail and BFSI, As business leader she’s driven ‘Business strategy’, ‘Operational excellence’, ‘Digital transformation’ through the adoption of technology to drive customer engagement and customer experience, Welcome once again  “Vani”, And today we’re going to gain laser-focused insights from “Vani” in all things OTT user growth, User behavior and personalized user experiences, So without further Ado, let’s get it down to it, So “Vani” my first question to you is, ZEE5 officially launched in February of 2018 and a sleeping giant strike sense, So if you could tell us a little more about its Genesis and growth story, That will be great to start off with”

Vani:  “Absolutely “Pradyut” I’m very happy to share What a rollercoaster amazing ride ZEE5 has had as an organization. So, you know we come from “Zeal” which is the group which is pioneered, you know, entertainment space in the country when the satellite television had come those for the first player so we have the industry or we have the Insight we have or The Cutting Edge over understanding our consumers, Understanding our technology, understanding or you know what the Indian audiences want, So that is the advantage with this we started on this journey”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Okay”

Vani:  “And if you go to ZEE5  we’ve got about, you know we speak in 12 languages, and you know that’s the diversity, It is for the people of India, you know, our content is vernacular, Our  experience is vernacular, You can actually go to the app and different languages and various things, And the way they had visualized and you know envisioned this when we started that it’s going to be all about entertainment, So at the start phase of it when we started or you know with live TV and Catch-Up TV as we call it which is winning in content from the ZEE5 from the ZEE group library and building that up from there on you can be brought the original content or you know which kind of lookup leaps and bounds in terms of our presence and in terms of our engagement with our consumers, we move from there to add our “News” to our kitty then our kids, We recently launched the whole playing program, We have some ‘Hyper’ casuality games and we have lot more coming on that side, Followed by a Short format content of which is called it be which is just launched,you know two Nights back,  It’s a very exciting journey we are super app or that’s what sure you know of entertainment, That’s what we made working or towards and as we are going along, It’s also to bring this whole story up together for the consumers and that’s really where the consumer engagement story’s are taken, So it’s been a fascinating fascinating times for ZEE5 to built so much, you know and such less time”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “True, Absolutely, I think  one thing that really stood out for me in your response was how ZEE has always had a pulse on the Indian audience, They have been one of the Pioneers in entertainment across platforms and how do you manage to, you know State to two  evolving consumer Behavior as well, So I’ll allow “Rahul” to take over the next question”

 Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “Absolutely, Thanks Pradyut, So actually “Vani” great insights on the exact story of where’s ZEE5 started and I think it doesn’t seem to be like this to your old company because of the overall growth and the past that you have actually explained to us which comes me to the next question which is how has the competitive landscape evolved not only across India but across other key markets”?

Vani: “So, you know India is bursting of the opportunity, Right? With all the crazy numbers specially  after new launch or coming in terms of Smart Tv penetration with Internet penetration, It’s only offered from here or from a OTT perspective there about 95 different layers, which operated the audio/video sort of segment, However, there are large few segments or large few of us OTT players who are right there who have done the content is content is a little you know, It’s Tricky business as you need to as a pulse of what’s going to work was work at all things like that,  And each one is driving niche for themselves in this space and you know, so our beat you know from ZEE5 perspective as I said  we are an entertainment super app, The path  we have taken is completely on the entertainment side on the Fiction side on the gaming side or short format content vis-à-vis other players who could be on the sports side or reality side and so on and so forth, So each one is making their own niche or there’s a lot of scope to tell the true stories or to tell good stories because users are looking for that or you know our consumers are very open to hearing these stories of ZEE5, you know, every story we tell is about you know, either has come from a factual story has come from, you know a relevance in history or from a book and so and so forth, So that’s really a sort of a drawing that we have made for ourselves to say that these are the kind of stories we want to tell and the platform gives the trade of freedom to do that, It’s also one on one, you know platform where you know, we are very closely involved with the user to watch his or her preferences are also it kind of works well, So yes, there’s a lot of People, lot of content being build up is very good time and especially in ‘Covid’ times or with more internet were traces with more people coming on board. It’s really been good because people have just adapted even more to the platform versus monster. It’s only here and here you stay”

 Pradyut Hande(Host): “ Alright, I think another very interesting point that you brought out, you know, another key pillar on which ZEE5 differentiates itself the art of storytelling and you mentioned that there’s so much content out there, There’s so much competition out there, especially with the number of new players entering the market that storytelling becomes such a powerful differentiating pillar, Very interesting point there, that actually leads me to my next question, Now according to a recent ‘Team42’ and data lab’s report is seen that the average time spent by Indian users on OTT platforms has increased by 30-60% since March of 2020, Obviously the lockdown has necessitated a lot of us to stay at home and search for new avenues of entertainment and content consumption, So what are some of the key user behavior on content consumption trends that you are witnessing at your end? 

Vani: “Yeah, So Pradyut you are absolutely right, I mean your research is absolutely correct. There is huge advent at ZEE5 or we’ve seen a 70% increasing in you know in our smart TV or consumption over this time, And you know, which is where people are coming on as a household to watch the content online, I think that’s a very big sort of a rage or progression that has happened because when it comes into your living room the, you know, the content is here to say is household consumption or different people are viewing different things or people are investing in better internet quality, so, therefore, others better screening ability which is just there or which is coming, It’s all about the habit of forming pretty good”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Right”

Vani:  “And we’re still very interesting trends and people coming back forming hobbit be if watching the news or live television or original content of the time of the day of, The day when they’re spending on this content so all of it you know together and it’s not one, Everyone behaving in a similar way and I don’t want to generalize it, But every user has its own journey and has its own schedule or you know of a way to consume”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Correct”

Vani:  “And we can say that you know, we’ve seen that increase across different users and across consumer parts, Also it’s a very very interesting phase, Yeah”

Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “Absolutely, So that actually place me to my next question Pradyut on Vani , So Vani for you like you mentioned that”

Vani:  “Yeah”

Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “Since it has now become like a like a family entertainment which Actually has come into the living rooms now”

Vani:  “Yeah”

Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “I am sure there has been a lot of evolution in terms of the user behavior and I am sure that must have also added a few more challenges” 

Vani: “Yeah”

 Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “So just wanted to understand from your perspective, What are the key user engagement and retention challenges that you are facing? and what are the metrics that you are using at our end to measure it?” 

Vani: “Right, So, you know, especially in these times “Rahul”, The one key or challenge we started off was that we are going to get on a lot of floaty audiences, right because we will get a new set of users who just want to come and you know, kind of feel ask you something not do some things or do very very talented driven, you know engagement with us to see a particular show or to see a particular movie, So while or you know, we, of course, saw a huge increase you know at the back of our minds, you know, Our really our objective was that how do we kind of that’s fine, We’ll get over these folks, but how do we keep them retain and he did how do we kind of keep them engaged and it came at crisis there or what can be measured really are right, How often our consumers are coming back or as we call them reviewers, right? So how often are you know, are they coming back and therefore and what is the kind of time they’re spending on the platform? All right, So these are very two critical matrices, And of course the retention percentage that how many people have kind of come and stayed back with us, So on the pillars on these matrices is really when we started mapping it or see early trends, And you know, it’s very interesting because they were people who were there with us ‘Pre-covid’, You know, during ‘Covid’ and ‘Post-covid’ so there are even the loyalist who are there with us, We had the floaters who came in who kind of you know, saw some specific content, but can’t you just stay with us because we had a continuous pipeline of launches even you know during covid times even Post-covid like, you know, which is launched original about, You know on 15th of August, so there’s a lot of which is happening on the platform and or this or you know on the basis of our content and basis of a very pointed conversation with our consumers you are rightly safe to say that we have trading this path or you know, very beautifully and you know kind of you know, achieving what our goals are with respect to having our consumers back and retain with us”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Very interesting, and I think it in such a scenario as you mentioned those three key metrics that you measured, We in a lot of our conversations with leading OTT players also we definitely outlying and underscored personalization is a major Game Changer in this space and by personalization, I don’t just mean one to one content recommendations over the mobile app or the website, but also extending the concept of personalization across the entire customer lifecycle and I’m sure in your position in your function you have dealt with that and you are tackling that challenge because personalization has to now be extended across all digital touchpoints, So in order to keep your users hooked on to increase  content consumption per session or to even convert freemium users and paid subscribers, How ZEE5 go about implementing its personalization strategy”

Vani: “Yeah, good question Pradyut, and a lengthy one and let me have a minute”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Yeah please go ahead and take your time”

Vani: “This is kind of the heart of the whole game, Right?

Pradyut Hande(Host): “True”

Vani: “Because you know the consumers are coming to really consume the content”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Right”

 Vani: “Okay, The generation this generation, We are working with was very little patience. Okay, and or therefore or discoverability is always you know, you have to give it in the face”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Absolutely”

Vani: “Perhaps this is what we have for you therefore you know how we kind of link this or how we have a build this differently something I like to share with you”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Sure”

Vani: “There are two parts of it or three parts of it, So the first part is about unified segmentation, which is what we call is an organization by segmentation strategy which we follow, Our consumers are very well defined into different segments, Okay, and everything we do across, you know stitches back into the segmentation of which is, you know on-platform experience, Off platform experience, organic experience, In-organ experience, wherever any conversation that is happening. Okay with the user it is keeping in mind what the Persona the personality of that user is”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Okay”

Vani: “Who’s in this segmentation, So that’s kind of the building block, So it kind of sets you know, the ball rolling to say, okay, This is the set of consumers we are doing something for even in terms of making our content choices, Right, So this is the Taste cluster of stars I want to talk to, This is you know, the show we are going to go ahead with”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Okay”

Vani:  “The second part of it is personalization, Personalization is very contextualizing Of course, I mean the most critical part of it is how do we recommend and you know, we lay it onto the platform itself, So and how do you bring this energy? So if you are doing it on the web or on a Smart TV device or on the app, are you getting similar experience and also other recommendations dynamic enough for you to kind of you know, it keeps changing as you change the taste because it’s not one taste for everyone”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Correct”

Vani:  “It could also be or changing with the times of the day, you know, In the morning you may want to listen to music, In the evenings you may you want something quirky or family show maybe you want fiction content, So depending on where you are kind of consumer fitting in, So there are various parameters, you know, understood them and go into it or to say that how sharper, you know, we understand our consumers say that it’s to this is the one which is of interest to you because if to give you an example If you’ve lost a thrilling show and you’re someone who into romantic movies if the stage  are sending you to watch this watch this is not what’s going to be interesting to you”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Correct”

Vani: “You know we rather keep ourselves the way and tell you how much more romantic content we have, I’m just giving an example”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Right”

Vani:  “And you could have shown different variations in this segmentation, So first  is rendering on the platform of which is beautifully done, We have a very robust AI-based recommendation engine we use and that really becomes the bedrock for feeding into you know different platforms as we go along, So be it on the CRM side which is, you know, organic marketing or Emailers or our mobile text or push notifications or paid channels or you know, which is paid marketing’s on ‘Google’ ‘Facebook’ wherever we are going It’s all integrated, So as a consumer if I’m talking about and I know that you will as per my understanding that you know you love still content and if that’s what I’m showing you on the platform is what you are going to shown across my channels”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Right”

 Vani:” So this one messaging that is going across, you know to the user so that kind of makes it very beautiful because then the consumer is viewing only one within they’re not getting different messages and there’s no noise in the conversation we are having with the consumer and are you know the third part of it is really optimization, right? What, how, when and how much do we want to talk to our consumers, Because if you know some peers are very assisted loyal they want to come back they come back on their own or they want to know is what the new show is coming, There are others who needed little more nudges that you know, we have something happening or there is a new show coming and so on and so forth, So how much nudging we want to do and where does it kind of you know, where do we stop or, Where do we push you to know where do we pull back or where the consumers come in, So it’s very interesting science and to do it you know on the peer side what thumbnails to whom or you know what Email creative for whom or you know what you know channel for whom, So there are various multiple matrices that kind of get into it and you know sort of it all comes together and this is all sort of automated and you know packed or by huge data science efforts and that kind of you know, helps us personalize our experience for our users”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Awesome, I think that’s a very detailed response to my very lengthy question, I think you’ve done a fabulous job of answering it, I think the key there being that personalization is driven not just by understanding your user behavior but also weighing a couple of levels deeper and understanding their actual taste and preferences, So that becomes so critical and an AI engine at the back end that can make that happen in an automated and dynamic fashion, I think that is the need of the art because the recommendation engine or a personalization platform is so key to the success of any OTT player today”

Vani: “Right”

Rahul Bohra(co-host): “ This one is often such great insights on recommendations and personalization, It  brings me to the last question that we have for you today to say, What are your thoughts on the future of ‘Mobile marketing’ ‘App analytics’ and Use of Artificial intelligence, ‘Machine learning and ‘Predictive Analytics in the future of OTT’s”

Vani: “So this is kind of, We are a digital company, right? This is kind of Bedrock for us, Okay, if you have to do or any player or anyone wants to do any kind of personalization at scale or then these are the things that which are kind of fit or you know the must-haves to make it happen. Also, for example, you know one choice would be to do a rule-based or communication that I think that people who watch the sort of content will also watch, The other is when you have an Entertainment backed by AIML which is automatically throwing up some content pictures you know, which the similar users which would be using collaborative or other techniques to be coming in”

Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “Right”

Vani: “So this is a very integral part of the whole process, This is you know, what I would call the kind of, you know, stepping store of “Martech”,  This is like the stack or you know, what you put here without IR or without using AIML  You know, it’s almost impossible to make any kind of you know scaled up automation of Frameworks and the impact on business only comes when you are scaled up, So therefore for that purpose this is very critical and some decisions which machines make a far smarter than what humans make and we should you know, I’m all for it and I feel that it’s only getting  deeper and deeper as the kind of scale the machines are getting very smart and it’s very interesting to see the kind of insights that come in and the kind of you know impacted it further to bring visitors, So the last scale, you know, the last scale up rather this is here and this is here to stay  this is actually still not even choice”

Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “True”

Vani: “For any set of anymore, This is how data analytics used to be at 50 years back when people are to choose about that they want to go the data path or not and intuitive and qualitative and all that little same way I mean I am unless here to stay, Even smaller of the things one that has to play a critical role and you know our like does ‘Google analytics’

 Rahul Bohra(co-host):  “True”

Vani: “You know which reports and beat understanding, All the understanding is coming from every little data nudge point you collected, What is critical is what you do with it, These are means to an end, You can collect a lot of information you can put a lot of tools and techniques but actually how it’s the defining your strategy and how one is really up to the game and that’s really how one organization will differentiate itself from the other one, So it is no more about who we need this but it is about how best we are using it, What is the best use case and what we are doing to build a business using these you know opportunities” 

Pradyut Hande(Host): “True, I think very very pertinent point there because there are so many brands that have put in place “Martech” stacks They are collecting a large quantity of customer data, but the main challenge the gifs encountered with lot of our brands is the data is in talking to different data sets its existing in silos, or they not being able to do enough with that data, So I think the point that you made about putting in place these Frameworks implementing “Martech” is critical and not just for survival and success and it’s gone beyond just a good to have but a need to have so I think those points come out beautifully through your, you know, your response to that looking at through your future prism, I’m sure our Global audience today will benefit greatly  from all that we’ve shared with us, The ‘Covid-19’ pandemic has definitely turned out to be a watershed moment for Industries like OTT and Edutech in India and its leading players like you who continue to redefine this space, So thank you so much for making the time and sharing your amazing insights with us today ‘Vani’ 

Vani: “Thank you, ‘Pradyut’ It’s a pleasure to be here, Thank you for having me here, And yes, it’s exciting, It was an interesting conversation. And yes, it is very interesting”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Right, made for a very interesting morning cup of coffee conversation”

Vani: “Yes Absolutely, That’s exactly what I am doing”

Pradyut Hande(Host): “Lovely, All right so to all our listeners Thank you so much for tuning in and to know such content do subscribe and follow “Martechno beat” and keep watching this space for more”


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