We are not 60 years old, we are 60 years young: Shemaroo’s Hiren Gada

Mumbai: As Shemaroo marks its 60th year in India, it has grown to offer a variety of media products, including over-the-top (OTT) services like ShemarooMe and general entertainment channels (GECs) like Shemaroo Umang, Shemaroo TV, and MarathiBana.

What started as a book circulating library, now after 60 years Shemaroo has become one of the leading content creators, aggregators and distributors in the media and entertainment (M & E) industry. With a revenue of Rs 146.6 crore in Q2 FY’23 Shemaroo recorded 19 per cent growth in its operating revenue.

Shemaroo CEO Hiren Gada was all smiles as he was sitting in his Mumbai based headquarters speaking to IndianTelevision.com on Shemaroo’s success story and the vision he has while they are growing in the digital space.

Also read: Shemaroo crosses the 60-year landmark in style

Gada spoke on various topics like content, the digital shift, OTT presence and its future, Government regulations, the Shemaroo legacy, regional content and the future of Shemaroo. 

Currently Shemaroo has 4,000+ titles across languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, across genres and formats, and operates more than 70 channels on YouTube garnering more than 100 million views a day.

The company’s flagship subscription-based video streaming entertainment platform ShemarooMe is available in more than 150 countries globally and offers Shemaroo a vast content library across Bollywood, regional, devotional and kid’s genres.

Edited Excerpts 

On the shift to digital

Definitely, producing content works across all media platforms. We have seen how content works across consumers, whether it is video cassettes, CDs, DVDs, television, or the digital world, and it will work if the same good content is put across. But the way content is delivered is different, because the medium changes. As a result, television is a broadcast medium in which the consumer has no programming control.

The channel decides what is shown and when it is shown in a linear manner. And in digital, the video on demand (VoD) side, the consumer has control over what they want to see, when they want to see it, how much they want to pay for it, and so on, which is a big difference.

So, the targeting and customisation is possible on digital medium. It is not possible on television because it's a mass service.  Because the cost of delivering would be different, broadcasting is one to many, so it's cheaper. Video on Demand digital is one to one so it is more expensive to reach out to them.

On the Internet evolution 

This journey began about 14-15 years ago. Ringtone was the digital media at that time. Then came YouTube, and various other services were launched.

Then came broadband and Jio, which had good infrastructure and was a big enabler for the digital ecosystem, and we have been clear since that time because we saw, globally, the digital streaming of content in a different way.

DVD for example, is also a video on demand only but it's physical.

We recognised the potential because of the consumer's ease and range of options; this will eventually be a video on demand service, and we made significant investments in both the platform and the content. However, when we first started out, we were a content hub. The distribution, platform investment, and setup were the next logical steps for us, which we have already taken. And right now, that is what has us excited.

On the leverages

There are three significant leverages. For starters, the brand has been around for 60 years and people have consumed the brand in a variety of ways. As a result, there is a high level of brand recognition and affinity.

The trust that all our stakeholders be consumers, customers, industry, partners, producers, vendors, employees, etc. kept in us and that we enjoy because of our core values essentially whatever we did transparently, honestly, and, all those factors because of which there is a trust factor lies in the ecosystem. And lastly the core content that we have in these three big leverages, which excites us and provides us with an exciting way forward in the future that are key initiatives on the digital side and on the broadcast side channels, etc.

There are two growing areas in the media entertainment business, which are digital and television. We have formed a plan and a way forward in that and to execute and deliver that now we have expanded the management team.

We've brought in a lot of expertise and everything is falling into place.

On the content

To be honest, I'm not involved in content at all; it's the team that is, because they have a better understanding of the insights and the specific content, features and nuances of that language and audience

That is where the team conducts the necessary research and insights, as well as going over the entire content. In fact, if I have to put it in another way, I'm not geared or equipped to do that if I have to move significantly deeper into that and there are teams that do that far better than I can.

We have a great team of people who are able to develop the content insights and get the best out of our partners.

On what worked for Shemaroo

Values were the key to our success. Our guiding principles are the reason that we were able to accomplish all this.  It's all about putting the other person first, attempting to follow through on our commitment, and redefining ourselves. We have constantly recreated ourselves in advance. When something has changed, invent. Instead of just being followers in that shift, we were the catalysts and leaders.

The content has come through or been added as a result of all of this, because there was a wonderful team, because there were excellent fundamental principles, and because at every point we have innovated, these are what have worked, which enabled us to form many partnerships, do many things, and collaborate with virtually all of the key stakeholders and players in the entire media & entertainment ecosystem.

On the regional content

We've been producing Gujarati content, original content, for over 15 years. In Gujarati, we started televising all the stage theatres (plays), so we started televising the theatre, for the DVD business, and then gradually that helped us build the library and gave us more insights and inroads into the Gujarati market and helped us build understanding of the content and of the consumer.

Similarly, we have produced Marathi films for more than 15 years. In 2007, our film Shwas was nominated for an Oscar, which we distributed, and we have a very close, nice, and warm relationship with the entire Marathi ecosystem. We have Marathi cinema services on DTH, it's not all of a sudden. It's also the next step or evolution of that, in my opinion. 

A journey, which started 15 years back or even more. This is the subsequent stage of that voyage. That is how I would phrase it because it has enabled us to better understand content, collaborate with the creator ecosystem or the local talent, and provide consumers. Giving a brand connect also took into account all the similar things we've created in Gujarati and Marathi over the past 15 years or so.

On the advertising 

We have identified where our customers are for various services. In 2018, we began our B2C journey. But, at the time, we were already working on a brand refresh. So we've created a new logo based on our previous one. Then we launched ShemarooMe and three channels, each of which is targeting a different audience. As a result, the channel Shimano TV is targeting the Hindi heartland so we're marketing it in that area, territory, or geography, or in those states.

For Marathi, in Maharashtra, Bombay and Pune are urban markets, other II and III tier cities are different markets and then there is the rural market as well. We do on ground activities too like we did Vaari in Maharashtra - in Mumbai B.E.S.T bus branding was the best way to put across our message. And similarly for Gujarat also we did the same marketing campaign. All of this is heavily supported with digital media, activities and marketing and promotions and advertising and various others.

On the regulations

The government has issued guidelines, and in my experience, the government has maintained what I would call a light touch on this.

We are also a signatory to the self-regulation guidelines that we are a part of, so Trai is leading the initiative and we are on the committee, and I believe that the ecosystem is responding quite well to the entire process.

A process audit is performed on a regular basis. I'd say it's quite good in the sense that, finally, the combination of consumer and creative sensibilities has come about - there's consumer, there's creative, and then there's the regulatory.

All three sensibilities and, both challenges and needs are, in a way, in fairly equilibrium at this point.

As far as the industry is concerned, I don't see any reason for or any change in this regard.

On technological disruption 

OTT services or video services, in general, I believe that business scaling is still at least two years away - possibly in 2024 or even 2025, is when the real growth will begin.

When you have adoption as a mass adoption it will flourish. It is still a restricted adoption at the moment. So it will take two to three years for mass adoption to truly influence and reach that mass adoption.

From here, I believe the runway for this business is enormous because it is a globally accepted service.

In India also, there is a very high acceptance rate among certain people right now, despite the fact that it is a smaller audience. But everyone knows where we are.

For instance, Youtube. So, on a monthly basis, there are already hundreds of millions of consumers in the audience. Moving that audience into premium, or even to what is the new thing, which is a premium kind of thing, or the ad supported model or hybrid model to do that, the industry will look at opportunity. 

The industry must earn its revenue by creating more opportunities while also providing the best service to its customers.

I believe that the true scale of the business will emerge in two or three years. From there, I believe there is a huge scaling opportunity.

And we are very excited about the future of the OTT business and, in fact, overall video consumption in India, whether it's digital platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, etc. or TV platform because India is still an underserved market on TV, there are still 20 - 30 per cent of the people who don’t have TV.

We are very excited that the business model now we have kind of transformed it to be participating in the most significant growth opportunities that are available.

On OTT business

So definitely at this point in time, the OTT business is not making money or does not make a positive bottom line for anyone, virtually anyone. I cannot think of virtually anyone that the OTT business is making a positive bottom line for. But as I said, this is a two to three year investment horizon, when at which point once there is a certain scaling, after that the bottom lines will be positive. 

So till that time there, it's an investment game. Everyone, including us, has to invest in different ways. We all will continue to build for maybe two or even different people at different stages of when they will achieve their break even there. But I believe that at this point, a lot of the players would still continue to be in an investment mode. There is a bigger opportunity in the future and  we have to wait for it, creators are looking for profit at an early stage which is not possible; because of that they will lose the opportunity.

On TV vs OTT

I believe that each of these media formats has a consumer. There is a market for each of these media, and there is no doubt that the OTT business has grown and will continue to grow significantly. In fact, we are betting heavily that it will grow, but we believe, or at least I believe, that TV has a long runway for a variety of reasons. Because it is currently only available to those who can afford it. It is the least expensive form of entertainment.

For Rs 300 per month, you can literally have the world of entertainment delivered to your door, which I believe is an important aspect of all of this. Advertisers also spend a lot of money on the television platform. So there are numerous reasons why TVs are holding and will continue to hold for the foreseeable future.

Growth could be slower. I don't believe there is a compelling case for television to be phased out anytime soon. Despite the fact that digital has been around for more than a decade, television remains popular. It hasn't grown as well, but it's still hanging in there, and I believe it will. In terms of adoption and its own economic and technological journey, India is still far behind. I believe that for the foreseeable future, television is not in danger of extinction. Of course, the exciting future is OTT or digital. Without a doubt, TV has a long runway.

On what we can expect 

We've now put together an exciting business model, and it's falling into place, we have a team of seasoned professionals. More and more people are joining who will be able to take this entire business into the next orbit, into the future and that's really what we're all very excited about.

Indeed, we internally referred to it as being a new beginning for us. It has the feel of a startup. And we prefer to refer to ourselves as 60 years young rather than 60 years old. 

So, that's the excitement we're feeling about it all. And that's really how much we're looking forward to the future. Since the last three years we are witnessing the impact of our investments and change in leadership. The extent of our target audience has significantly shifted because of our various B2C initiatives ShemarooMe, channels and YouTube.

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