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Part 1: Viacom18’s Ali Hussein On Portals Vs Properties, Social Media Tie-Ups, Site Relaunch

viacom18Viacom18 is a joint venture between Viacom and IBN18 Broadcast (IBN18 has a 50% stake in Viacom18), and in India, it manages MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1 and Colors. Earlier, we’d spoken in detail with social networking site Orkut, and SMS community platform SMS GupShup.

aliIn this two-part interview with Medianama, Viacom18’s Director (Digital), Ali Hussein, talks about integrating social media with TV shows, a portal versus product approach, Twitter, working with multiple social networks, monetization online (and bundling with TV), mobile video, online music and future plans that will unfold its converged digital strategy.

Which are your top properties and what is your approach towards the Digital Media space?

Unlike a lot of platforms or brands that have portal strategies, ours has been slightly different – we develop shows such as Roadies 7 which was a show on-air and then became a large digital consumer engagement platform for us. There is a strategy for content, how we market it, what are the kind of brands that will come aboard and work with us for that particular show. Second kind of show is what we call digital shows.roadies-battleground Roadies Battleground is an example – it was completely conducted on the digital platform and then had a life on television. So it’s actually the reverse.

Whether it’s a platform like Twitter or Facebook or Orkut, we generally partner with them to aid a certain purpose we have for a digital or TV show. For us, platforms used are completely defined by what the product is.

Can you tell us what you have done with integrating these shows with Twitter and Facebook?

This year, the first round of auditions for Roadies were completely on the digital platform. We are going to shortlist people and eventually meet them on ground in five, six cities, but the first entry process is through mobile – by SMS’ing roadies to 56882 to get a registration id. The second step involves giving us some basic information to evaluate your credentials, via either Facebook Connect, or give us the details such as your name, age, city and so forth.


With Twitter, we are trying to get consumers to tweet back to us or tweet out to them with interesting updates (MTV India’s Twitter profile). There is an activation planned soon for a digital show which will have content that will be featured on TV. It’s in a nascent and strictly confidential stage and I can’t share more information. It’s being done with one of the bigger brands in the country and will be launched 2 months down the line.

Roadies Battleground has just concluded its second season and has been a phenomenal success for us because in the TV show, you have only 13 roadies participating, but here – anybody and everybody who is connected to the Internet can participate. They go through an audition process, go on to a vote out and vote in and a similar process, but the unique thing here is we keep adding people in, so people who have not been selected can get in through future rounds. And whatever packets of content we get, we put it back on air so people became psuedo-producers of content. Roadies Battleground year one was in conjunction with Google and this has become one of the biggest case studies in social media.

Do you mean the Orkut app?

mtv-roadiesYes, the Orkut application for Roadies Battleground was the first Open Social application done with Google and with MTV. It was 2 years ago and there were 300,000 users. After the show was over the app was not used as it was made for the purpose of this particular activation that is season 1. For the second year, rather than doing an Open Social app, we did it on In.com.

How many users do you have on your digital and mobile platforms?

I will not be able to quote exact numbers; but when compared to 2007, if we had x (applicants), in 2008 we had about 4x and in 2009 we have already touched 10x and auditions are not over yet.

Are you platform agnostic or choose one platform at a time – as we have seen with first Orkut and then Facebook?

We are, but it depends on which is the key platform for that show. So we did something with Facebook Connect, for MTV Connected, a TV show about identifying yourself with a celebrity.

quote2-viacom18But why have only one platform? As a content provider, it would be in your best interests to partner with all…

These platforms are not completely seamless with each other. If they were compliant, it would be easier to partner with all. For me it is as important to all consumers sitting within Orkut, within Ibibo, Bigadda and all the local and global players. But since these portals are unique to themselves in terms of features and attributes, it’s difficult to seamlessly integrate all of them. Generally I can probably get Twitter and Facebook on one show, but Facebook and Orkut for one show has challenges.

How are your communities doing?

On Orkut we (official community) have over 300,000 people, and on Facebook excess of 200,000 people and on Twitter there are 25,000 following us. So in terms of a branded community that is engaged we are probably one of the largest.

logo-biggbossDo you partner with the unofficial communities?

It’s very difficult to keep a track of the owners of unofficial communities. Certain people we have tried to reach out and ask them to become part of the official community and get some value back in return but it’s not always that we get a favourable response. So we allow it – it’s as much marketing for our content. For Roadies 7, there are 4 Roadies websites. (Ed: we found Roadies7.com and Mtvroadies7.com). We allow them to co-exist and market the show and product. For Bigg Boss, last year, there were 2 or 3 sites created by consumers and they had content, all the news and the masala. (Ed: we found Biggboss.org and Biggboss.co.in)

How do you deal with them? Is there a team that monitors such activity?

There are certain steps to see how can curb them or manipulate them in the right direction. But those are attempts we will continue to work on. Viacom has a large legal support system. They keep track of what’s happening globally,  and so do we. It’s a cohesive process and if they come across something they inform us or we do, we inform them. If you ask me if there is a process structure, the answer is no but we help each other out.


What about your own websites?

We don’t have a portal-ish strategy. I don’t necessarily need to drive traffic to MTVIndia. Our strategy is more open in terms of going to the customers rather than making them come to us. So that’s the slight difference. We do keep a track of traffic. To state Comscore ratings, we were number 66 in the country in April, much higher than Zapak. Exact data, because of confidentiality I will not be able to share. But in terms of numbers also we were higher than Zapak in April.

Portal strategy wise, like you said you go to the consumers – what are you doing to reach out to them?

We are relaunching our portal in the next few months. And it will have far more interesting and engaged content. But the portal will also be designed in such a way that you don’t need to exist on the portal to be able to navigate within it. you can go outside, and come back as and when you feel like. So there is no requirement to come back to my destination. It’s going to be a tool that will help facilitate other platforms.


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