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NEW DELHI: The premiere of Bigg Boss OTT by Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd on its video streaming service Voot is off to a flying start, with the show recording an estimated 1.5-2 million viewers each week and particular traction in the 15-30 age group. The experiment, that’s a first of its kind, may set the stage for more big-ticket TV properties to be premiered on the web first, boosting advertising and sponsorship revenue.

“The response has been very encouraging so far and a lot of viewers seem willing to become screen-agnostic as far as the show goes," said Gourav Rakshit, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Digital Ventures. The platform is getting twice the watch-time it used to, he added.

Big Boss OTT is the digital-only season of Viacom18’s popular reality show that airs on its Hindi entertainment channel Colors. The show made its debut on Voot on August 8 and is being hosted by Karan Johar.

The last season of the show, in 2020, on Colors had registered 3.9 billion viewing minutes in its launch week.

“The broad learnings are to do this (bring a show exclusively on digital first) again with more reality show properties. It is a bold bet but hopefully the rest of the industry will follow too," Rakshit added. Once the OTT season of the show ends, a few of the contestants will be joined by new ones for the TV premiere, the advantage being older players have already achieved some level of fandom.

Media industry experts said that Voot, so far, has been a fringe player in India’s OTT segment dominated by Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Disney+Hotstar. However, Bigg Boss OTT as a property has helped create buzz around the service. Since episodes are also available for free in AVoD (advertising video-on-demand) format on Voot a few hours after premiering behind a paywall, they said it is difficult to ascertain the jump in subscriber numbers.

“It’s a good beginning if they can carry the formula forward with other properties because Viacom18 has a strong roster of non-fiction, youth content that has proven viewership on TV," said Mihir Shah, vice-president at Media Partners Asia (MPA), an independent provider of research, advisory and consulting services in media, telecom, sports and entertainment.

"The viewership for the show has been decent as many viewers regularly take to social media to discuss participants and evictions. The key idea is interactive entertainment (via the web version) that will now extend beyond the routine exercise of voting to a more immersive experience through polls, quizzes and a lot more changes in the narrative," Shrenik Gandhi, co-founder and CEO of digital agency White Rivers Media said.

"The strategy has clearly paid off, specifically in terms of on-boarding new customers and attracting new-age, digital brands. Having sponsors like Swiggy and CoinDCX can in fact also grow the confidence of other brands to experiment with OTT advertising," Gandhi added. 

In fact, with brands with such universal appeal on board, Viacom18 may have easily doubled what it had invested in the show, said Balkrishna Hari Singh, founder and CEO, Frenzi - a single window search and recommendation app for streaming content. Bigg Boss OTT is said to have garnered Rs120 crore to 150 crore in advertising revenue, according to media experts.

At subscribers of just over a million at the beginning of the year, according to MPA, it may be looking at the Bigg Boss OTT experiment to subsidise its investment in developing original content, besides help brand building while adding crucial paid subscribers, according to Saurabh Uboweja, managing partner, BOD Consulting. “It’s a low hanging fruit given the popularity of Bigg Boss as a monetizable asset. It’s a creative strategy and may inspire other linear TV originated OTT platforms to explore this route," Uboweja added.

Yet challenges for the streaming platform remain. “It’s definitely a big step to compete at least with broadcaster-led services like ZEE5 and SonyLIV, though foreign platforms are a league apart. Though Bigg Boss is like ‘hero’ content, they will need to keep investing in originals to stay in the game since many subscribers that may have taken annual packs will keep exploring other content," Karan Taurani, senior vice-president, Elara Capital Ltd said.

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