Vaasudev Koppineni on Prabhas' episode, upcoming Pawan Kalyan's episode and more Unstoppable with NBK 2


Exclusive - We've tried to get it in theatres also but piracy was a concern: Vaasudev Koppineni on Prabhas' episode, upcoming Pawan Kalyan's episode and more

In a freewheeling chat with ETimes TV, Vasudev Koppineni, the Head of Content & Strategy, Non-Subscription Revenue Business (aha), spoke at length about the Unstoppable with NBK 2, the recent episode featuring Prabhas, their content strategy and more.

Unstoppable with NBK season 2 hosted by Nandamuri Balakrishna has indeed taken the internet and the Telugu OTT world by storm. It has created a niche and acquired a loyal fanbase already. While the episode featuring Prabhas is creating ripples everywhere, ETimes TV got Vasudev Koppineni, the Head of Content & Strategy, Non-Subscription Revenue Business (aha), talking about the show, the OTT platform's content and strategy both in fiction and non-fiction space and more. Excerpts...

How did the conception of Unstoppable with Nandamuri Balakrishna happen?
I think the intention to do a talk show was always there. This was a couple of years back when we were still operating virtually towards the end of the lockdown. We always wanted to do a talk show with someone whom people would never expect of. We thought of Balakrishna garu's name. The moment we pitched it to Aravind garu (Allu Aravind), he immediately called him up and asked for his time. Myself and my teammate Sridevi met Balakrishna garu the next day and briefed him about our concept. He gave an instant nod. Everything materialised in a swish. The name 'Unstoppable' also cropped up in one of our discussions.

How easy or tough was it to convince a superstar like Balakrishna for this?

We might think it's tough with Balakrishna garu. But he's one man with extreme clarity. I think that is why he did not take much time to give a nod for this show. If you can communicate your ideas, you'll get your answer within no time. He just wanted to know what we wanted to do with this show and the moment we could explain the concept, he immediately said 'Yes'. He's the most straightforward, simple and clear man with a conviction.

What are the changes you've noticed from season 1 to season 2 of Unstoppable?
Season one unveiled superstar Balakrishna garu in his element which pleasantly surprised many. So in season 2 we understood that people want to see more of him and his world. So, we tried to explore the world of Balakrishna garu more and invited Nara Chandrababu Naidu garu, his friends Kiran Kumar Reddy, Suresh Reddy garu and others. We didn't deliberately plan for some political guests and Balakrishna garu's world happens to have so many celebrated personalities.

What kind of reservations did the host have?
(Smiles) Honestly, we had more reservations than him. Whenever we approached him with something, he would be ready to give us much beyond. The pure enthusiasm and energy that radiates from his aura is very infectious. There couldn't be a better host for Unstoppable than Balakrishna garu.

Is it true that Pawan Kalyan did not want any question on his previous marriages?
It was never in our mind. We never thought of not asking a certain question and our guests also never had any qualms. Any question we've asked them, they were more than happy to answer all of them. We just got lucky in that regard. Also, we want the show to be a space which brings anything that is unsaid or discussed so far. I think that also became the key differentiator for the show.

Reasons why Prabhas' episode did not stream in the theatres?
We've tried to get it streamed in the theatres but it is way more challenging than one can imagine. There are multiple factors governing it. We're a little concerned about the piracy aspect as well.

How are shows like Unstoppable or Indian Idol faring in terms of revenue on OTT?
Successful shows like Unstoppable are indeed beyond the distribution channel. They are bound to succeed wherever you put them - be it TV or OTT. But the biggest advantage with OTT is watching at your convenience. It is no longer appointment viewing. We have a freemium model. There's premium content which one needs to pay and view. In the two modes of revenue: Subscription and non-subscription based. We've harnessed a lot in the past one year in non-subscription based revenue in the form of brand solutions. Today, a lot of brands are already associated with us knowing our reach and many more are keen to partner with us on various fronts.

Your take on the comment that your non-fiction content is driving the OTT platform forward?
When we were initially trying to crack the fiction space, we understood the fact it needs the space, time and resources that it requires. At the same time, we are in the business of serving content to our users and we can't afford to take endless time to do that. Unlike fiction, the turn around time to create non-fiction content is lesser while our audiences are also quite used to the format. So, we started focusing on non-fiction as well and created diverse content across genres like Sam Jam, Unstoppable, Telugu Indian Idol, Sarkaar, Chef Mantra, Dance Ikon and more. The success we've witnessed through this journey encouraged us to keep going.

How do you take feedback for your content?
It is in our DNA to take and apply constructive feedback not only for Unstoppable but any show - be it social listening, direct feedback from viewers, friends, well wishers both inside and outside the industry. At times, we did even pick up questions from fan queries and asked our stars. We've always been very reciprocative to any constructive feedback we've been getting.

Any change in the consumer behaviour patterns that you've observed lately?
I think post pandemic the acceptance for OTT has grown exponentially. What would have taken 4-5 years otherwise has happened for OTT in those two years of pandemic. At the same time, users are all spoilt for choice today. They wouldn't have a reason to stay with us if we don't serve creatively engaging content.

How are you trying to differentiate in a highly competitive market with popular national and international players?
When everyone is trying to come to Telugu market, we have already held a strong foothold. Hyperlocal is the thing now. We being the market leader already, we are penetrating deeper and trying to get hold of the untapped audiences as well. And the content consumption pattern of someone in a metropolis like Hyderabad would be different from someone in other cities and towns. So, we are curating premium content like Telugu Indian Idol, or a daily web serial like Mr. Pellam or a show like Comedy Stock Exchange with some cleaner comedy and also trying to tell stories of our land, because we are '100% Local'.

What are your plans for fiction content in the future?
We've kept our word that there would be a release every Friday. At the same time, we are trying to ensure quality. Yes, there is a bigger gap we've taken in the fiction space. The reason being the talent here is versed with episodic format and the time and effort needed to create a good quality series is relatively high. So, we are giving it the time and everything it requires. In the past 8-12months, we have been strengthening our team of writers and brewing very strong ideas in collaboration with some creative talent. You'll see all of that next year.

How open is aha for new writers and passionate talent?
We are the platform that has encouraged new talent the most in India. Last year, we introduced six new directors and two more projects are in the line up. In the next 3-4months, three more new directors will be introduced. We are one of the most accessible platforms. There were instances when people come to our office asking us to hear their stories out.

How did K-drama find space in your bouquet and your plans for including Deccani content...
Every year, we go to every nook and corner of our Telugu land, talk to people from different demographics, age groups and socio economic strata, try to understand what they want to watch on OTT in general. Last time when we went, many were talking about BTS and Korean dramas. There is a certain segment of audience who enjoy premium dubs. I, too, got many messages thanking aha for such content and many suggested that we take up K-dramas as well. As I said, we take constructive feedback very seriously.

Regarding Deccani content, we already have Qubool Hai on the platform and we are exploring two more stories.

What are the biggest challenges you faced in this journey so far?
- Engaging talent is the biggest challenge.
- We should consistently evolve with our content decision making and again it's so subjective.
- We must also ensure our content reaches the right audience.

Whom do you look up to in real life?

All of us do hard work but consistency is the key. In this arena, it is easy to get disappointed. One Friday can change everything for you or put you down. Hard Work with consistency pushes me every day. Moreover, I've been very fortunate to work with really good leaders who inspired me a lot. Allu Aravind garu is someone whom I really love, admire and look up to. You talk to him for five minutes, you'll know why I'm saying so.

3 future projects that fans can look forward to?

We're really excited about the next set of fiction releases including a few original films and series in the first half of January. We are also kicked up about yet another exciting second season of a show.

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