Expert Speak Digital Frontiers
Published on Nov 10, 2020
With two huge technology and infrastructure advances — cheap high-quality smartphones and almost free data — the internet is quickly becoming an equaliser.
Pocket Aces: India’s leading digital entertainment company solving boredom

ORF: Pocket Aces has captured the hearts of millions of Indians with hundreds of hours of relatable entertainment. What is your overarching mission and how do you retain the Indian consumer at the heart of it as you continue scaling?

Aditi Shrivastava: Our mission is to solve boredom. What I love about this mission is that it is so unabashedly audience centric. This is what defines how we as a company think and take decisions, with a strong focus towards audience satisfaction.

Today we are India’s largest digital entertainment company focused on mobile video, reaching over 50 million people a week and clocking over 700 million video views every month. To grow this in a robust manner, we need to do three things:

First, continue to remain highly relevant for various types of audiences at scale. We remain close to our audience by leveraging the fact that digital is a two-way medium. We apply design thinking principles to talk to the audience on an ongoing basis and gather insights on their evolving preferences and behaviours. This helps us decide what new formats to create, what new content genres to launch and what new platforms to develop a presence on.

Second, continue to grab audience attention minutes wherever they are spending time, across different platforms and mediums. In addition to building a strong presence on all social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and on OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, MXPlayer and SonyLiv, we also licence our content to other mediums such as television, in-flight entertainment, telecom companies and even to screens in cabs! This ensures that the audience find us wherever they want to be entertained.

Third, continue to experiment, reinvent and stay diversified. We are in extremely exciting times for the media and entertainment industry in India, so it is easy to become redundant or irrelevant quickly. To build to last, we are creating an ecosystem play with a fundamentally strong business having diversified offerings and revenue streams, capturing value across the value chain.

ORF: What is Pocket Aces’ content creation philosophy and how do you utilise technology to drive it?

AS: Our content creation philosophy is to create highly relatable content that the audience share, thus distributing it organically at a very low cost. This is what inherently makes a piece of content ‘viral.’

Data and technology are at the heart of how we create content. Content has always been considered a ‘hits driven’ business led by the personal preferences of creators, but this cannot work at scale. By utilising insights from data and creating a feedback loop for creators, we have proven that we can reliably repeat the success and deliver viral videos week after week.

For our non-gaming content, we use tech tools to capture the usage behaviour and preferences of our audience on an ongoing basis. We use these tools to monitor the performance of released content and feed that data back into our creative process on a real time basis. We also leverage our access to these large audience sets to test concept ideas, themes, plot points, actors and the like with micro and short-form content before investing in creating more expensive, longer-form content. We also use proprietary tech tools to monitor trending content from across the world and predict the virality of content.

On our gaming app Loco, we have developed several cutting-edge technologies. One example is our low latency live streaming technology that can support more than a million concurrent users. With this, we became India’s largest live streaming app in 2018, second only to Hotstar. We also have an AI-driven recommendation engine that populates timelines with personalised gaming content. Loco’s reward system and social buttons are another feature that ensure high engagement in the form of session times and retention rates.

ORF: Pocket Aces’ range of content segments is astonishingly broad, from short animation memes to multiple-season web-series, and you have recently successfully ventured into the gaming world as well. How do you manage the whole spectrum?

AS: We think of ourselves as a new-age digital media conglomerate. Just the way a traditional media company has channels across content genres and languages on TV, we are building these for a mobile-first audience. This manner of expansion is again a result of our audience-first mindset — India’s diverse internet audience has a variety of entertainment needs and preferences, and we have done quite a bit of work to identify the gaps and areas that are still nascent in terms of behaviour creation.

You will see how our channels align with our mission of solving boredom as well as our philosophy of shareable content:

• FilterCopy (short video fiction) and Dice Media (multiple-season web series) are large general entertainment channels, focusing on everyday relatable situations and emotions of a broad Indian audience, while maintaining a progressive storytelling lens.

• Our lifestyle channel Gobble focuses on content across the food, travel and home genres. These are highly engaged genres where the audience is not just searching for content and consuming it, but also creating a huge amount of user-generated content.

• Our infotainment channel Nutshell fulfills the Indian behaviour of continuously sharing knowledge with each other, even if it is on WhatsApp. We focus on ‘did you know’ and ‘how it’s made’ kind of videos across history, sports, movies, technology and other topics that Indians love to share.

• Our animation channel Jambo aims to eventually create the Family Guy or South Park of India. Animated content for adults is a big gap in India, and with Jambo we are specifically focused on the tier 2 and 3 Hindi belt audience and their sensibilities.

• Loco is our most ambitious vertical since it is an independent app/platform. With fast, cheap smartphones and free data, Indians are finally gaming on their phones. This is a brand-new content sector, and hence it is possible to shape this behaviour and become the platform of choice. Gaming is also very interesting as a content genre because of its high repeat value — if you like a movie or show, you will watch it a few times as best, but if you like a game, you will play it thousands of times. It directly feeds into our mission of solving boredom and capturing maximum attention minutes.

Having several channels is extremely synergistic from a business perspective as well — while each channel has its own creative team, all other functions, such as sales, marketing, talent, finance and HR, are shared. Having different types of content and audiences also empowers us to offer a diverse suite of solutions to advertisers, thus making us the partner of choice for all kinds of marketing campaigns.

ORF: How has India’s technology ecosystem enabled you to build and scale Pocket Aces in ways that would not have been possible even a decade ago?

AS: Until a few years ago, easy data access was considered a luxury, mainly used by people living in metro and tier 1 cities. But with two huge technology and infrastructure advances — cheap high-quality smartphones and almost free data — the internet is quickly becoming an equaliser in the growth of India and Bharat alike. Today, there are over 480 million people in India that have access to the internet. Reports show that 45 percent of internet usage is for social media and entertainment, and 75 percent of this consumption is happening via the mobile phone.

An average Indian is picking up their phone 35 times a day, for seven minutes each—that is 4 hours a day. They are bored, they are hungry for entertainment. And the nature of this boredom is evolving quickly. In addition to just passively consuming content, they now want to build their social personas, share their opinions, show off their talents, keep in touch with friends and even earn money.

Pocket Aces is solving this boredom and earning these attention minutes by entertaining everyone, everywhere, every day.

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