On the eve of turning one, Bengali-language streaming service Hoichoi announced 30 new shows and 12 new films for the next year. Hoichoi will also sell offline top up cards to boost its subscriptions. MediaNama spoke with Vishnu Mohta, HoiChoi’s co-founder about the company’s plans.

The following is an edited and paraphrased transcript of our interview

On how the offline top up cards work

Mohta: “Even today, prepaid cards are sold offline. So.. the idea is to use a combination of methods and see how that goes.” Using the partner retail network, including cinemas, food courts, malls, having Hoichoi kiosks, users can use a scratch card to get a code. Then they can go to hoichoi.tv/redeem and activate the service for whatever period of time. We want to perfect the model in Kolkata where we’re piloting it. In the next two months, we’ll roll it out in one go through retail chains who we’re speaking to, our own cinemas and cinemas in West Bengal to start with and then other networks which telcos and DTH players use.

On the subscription revenue model and being a content platform

Mohta: I firmly believe that the SVOD model will work for Hoichoi in the next year, more so than it did the last year. There’s a bunch of free content (episodes, music streaming etc) also. In a lot of ways, we’re a freemium content player… That accounts for a big part of consumption. We’ll keep adding more. Hoichoi is meant to be one more singular interface for everything. We’ve got a bunch of short films over there, we’ve got original films that we made specifically for the platform. It’s meant to be a 360 degree platform for all types of content that people want…

A majority of our cost is original content. Last year we made 22 shows. We do a lot of digital premieres of films. There were films like Haami, Posto, Projapoti Biskut… These landmark films… are not necessarily SVF productions, for that matter, and they premiered on Hoichoi.

On why Hoichoi does both Transactional VOD and SVOD and its content strategy

Mohta: [With these methods, we’re] trying to address the need of the market and a problem that exists today… Bengalis are spread across the world and theatrically, Bengali films can’t reach all those audiences internationally. Close to the theatre release of the film, we’ll be able to make the films (our own and those of others) available… And they have an additional revenue monetisation which we would not have been able to do otherwise. We want to have a pay-per-view option for people who stay anywhere in the world.

People were very cautious when we started with SVOD and everybody always asked, ‘are you mad? Why are you doing SVOD? Who’s doing SVOD?’ We wanted to have a bunch of digital premieres, original shows… We knew that was enough to make people pay.

If you give people enough reason to pay, and continue engaging them on a week on week basis by putting out that content, that’s a key reason [for them to use your platform]… The kind of content we’re making, the people we’re making it with, the equipment we’re using…  It’s a question of what you’re marketing with your content.. and whether that customer is making the choice to pay. That’s been our sense.

On market expansion

Mohta: We see people coming to us without putting a lot of effort… we see ourselves, being bigger in the UK, US as well, because there’s a huge population of Bengalis and Bangladeshis there. The biggest immediate opportunities exist in Bangladesh and the Middle East: Bangladesh is twice the size of the Bengali population in India and a 250 million people worldwide. These two markets specifically are extremely important from an immediate point of view. But we see a lot of traction in the UK, US, Australia already.

On explicit content – how Hoichoi decides which content to broadcast

Mohta: We do tell creators where to draw the line… the idea is not to be obscene or promote nudity etc. The idea is that you can deal with mature subjects.. It’s in the natural form of storytelling that those stories can be communicated with [explicit] themes. With profanity and obscenity, we do have our own [quality check] team where we filter content. We do a lot of content, reality shows… differentiated content that does not fit that description. Since this is a paid platform, it’s [adults] 18+ anyway because you need a debit/credit card, that in itself is a filter mechanism for the platform.

On competition

To be honest, we don’t think about competition too much, especially because we’re going after one market and one language so far. For the last few years, we’ve been market leaders from a content ownership and brand point of view at SVF which is a 22 year old legacy.

We came from a position of strength. The way we think of the overall industry is that it’s a starting phase for the industry overall. Advertisement-based VOD and [the] internet are growing at a very fast pace. From an ad and pay point of view, [these] things are at an early stage.

You think about competition in a mature market where you’re eating into each other’s market share or there is a dearth of something. We believe in content ownership and IP ownership… I don’t see competition as a big concern right now, or for the next few years. What we’ll have to care about is being ahead of the game. Challenges are going to be about how many people we get to, how many we’re able to educate and bring into the internet and the pay ecosystem.

On distribution of content and channels

Mohta added that while the company has started dubbing shows in Telugu and Tamil, it is still figuring out a way to distribute the content. However, content deals with other platforms may not be on the plate, “We’d like it to be Hoichoi, and keep it ancillary. The idea is not to say no, now we’ve made it so we’ll sell it to people. We want to own the customer relationship and be a part of the customer experience. That could happen through a partner, but it has to be through a brand that we own.” He added that Hoichoi wanted to own the customer experience for all its content globally. “We’ll go to a customer through a partner, like a telco, or a DTH player, where we’ll put an app in the cable box. There could be multiple ways, but the brand will always be Hoichoi,” Mohta said. The streaming platform is live on Airtel TV and Hoichoi plans to talk to cable, DTH and broadband companies for distribution.