Explore India’s first independent FAST platform and the trends – Manish Sinha

Date: January 29, 2024

In the fast moving world of streaming, there’s a new category (not so new) that has gained lot of attention in the past few years. FAST – ‘Free Ad Supported Television’ platforms are new age ecosystems where content (channels) is free to view but is ad supported. A number of platforms have come up in the past years and have gained a lot of attention.

India too is now witnessing a wave of streaming revolution where the first independent FAST platform has come up and it’s creating some ripples in the industry. Welcome, RunnTV – a new comer with giant aspirations and some serious tech to give the bigwigs a tough fight.

In this Pubhouse conversation, we explore RunnTV and talk to the man behind it – Manish Sinha.

Q. For our readers, let’s have a deep introduction about who Manish is and the critical roles that you’ve taken up in the past few years?

A. Firstly, thank you for making me a part of this exciting initiative. Answering good questions helps the responder reflect and validate what they know and help them discover a lot of unknowns and gaps in their understanding. So thanks for the opportunity.     

I am the Founder and CEO of RunnTV, India’s first independent FAST based streaming platform. I have close to two decades of experience with a strong focus on the Media & Entertainment (M&E) industry working with technology and product companies in the M&E domain. I am very passionate about this industry and love to apply interventions and experimentations with the media value chain with the right set of technology, industry and consumer insights.  

Before launching RunnTV, I was heading Media & Entertainment business for To The New and prior to that was the Head of Business Development – Media & Entertainment at LTI.     

Q. You have more than 18 years of experience in strategy & digital transformation across technology companies. How did you end up starting India’s first independent FAST platform?

In the past decade, I worked with media companies across the globe including the entire spectrum from Fortune 500 giants to native digital organizations. Fortunately, this was a phase of formation, experimentation and evolution of streaming businesses for all of them. This is where I built a very deep understanding of the streaming business and started appreciating the nuances, challenges and opportunities in streaming. 

I always used to have debates and discussions in my networks on why something was or wasn’t happening in the Indian streaming market and about the underlying gaps and immense opportunity. I strongly felt that there’s something really meaningful that can be done in this market with the right blend of technology, media and experience and decided to pick that up myself. 

Q. Could you tell our audience more about RunnTV and what its offerings are? How is it different from other FAST platforms? These interviews are read by industry experts so you can talk deeply & use jargon.

We are building RunnTV as India’s first independent FAST based streaming platform targeting only Indian audiences. Our vision is to make RunnTV the Entertainment Experience Destination for Indians across the globe. 

For RunnTV users, our goal is to deliver them the entertainment experience in a very curated and decluttered way. The categories that we are focussing on in the first phase are bollywood and international movies, short films, web series, kids, reality, performances, music, and podcasts in addition to top national news networks. We are very selective with partners, content categories and the content and will only be delivering only quality entertainment and not just dump available free content. We will be establishing a very unique positioning with such a combination of quality and curated content available to users for free, with great experience.

We are also targeting audience building for new-age and non-mainstream content categories and genres that RunnTV users will discover in a very unique way when they come to the platform for their existing choice of categories and genres. 

Majority of our channels will be owned and operated and hence we will have a good control on quality, data driven scheduling and features like time-shift and catch-up. RunnTV is powered by proprietary technology that will help us achieve this and create differentiated experiences for users and also make economics work for business sustainability and growth.

Q. When you look at other models like AVOD, SVOD; FAST is a relatively new concept and the way it is structured indicates that it might be a big hit in India and countries that are more ad friendly. What do you think is the future for FAST platforms?

FAST had success in western world not because of its ‘free’ nature, but because of its relevance and ease of access for users. Those markets are neither price sensitive nor ad friendly and despite that FAST witnessed great adoption in those markets. It will definitely be a big hit in the India market with India being a non-subscription economy, highly price-sensitive market and ad friendly users. The only not so favorable factor is lower CPMs but that’s also going to change very rapidly in the next few years with more and more ad spends being routed to digital, especially CTV that itself is expected to reach $500M by 2027.     

India is a huge market and multiple FAST platforms can co-exist in a meaningful way and it is important to have players of all shapes and sizes, along with tech and ad partners, for the FAST ecosystem to develop in India with long term growth and sustainability.   

 Q. In the early stages of RunnTV, how has been the response? How much traction are you gaining?

I am thankful to our users and content partners for the great early response we have got for RunnTV. We launched RunnTV in November 2023 and have already got 100K+ downloads across mobile and TV devices. This response underscores RunnTV’s relevance and experience for OTT users in India and the potential for FAST in the market. 

Also, as is both expected and hoped for in FAST, early signs of CTV consumption are also encouraging. With our current DAU base, CTV users of 7-9% of total  DAUs are having 20-24% of the total daily watch time. 

Last two months have been a lot of experimentation and A/B testing and now we are at a stage where we will soon scale up and we are excited and ambitious about the journey we will have in 2024.        

Q. What’s the target audience of RunnTV? Are you targeting any specific demographic or country?

We will only be targeting the Indian audience with RunnTV. In the first phase, it will just be the India market and then we will expand to other markets having a sizable Indian diaspora such as USA, UK, Canada, Middle East etc. This audience pool in itself is large enough with a pretty diverse pool and huge opportunity.

We want to remain focussed on this TG so as to be able to build our offering that’s very relevant and useful for our users. We don’t want to show our users ‘irrelevant and non-watchable’ channels that are there on the platform just to increase the channel count to claim variety. We will bring variety but with relevance and watchability and that can be done only when you have a very targeted audience group with content strategy revolving around them.    

Q. Will FAST replace linear television in the next 10 years or will linear continue to dominate the air?

Linear television, read as broadcasters and TV channels, will continue to exist in the next 10 years but their distribution and mode of consumption will change. It will not be consumed through DTH and cable but over-the-top through streaming platforms. And among the streaming platforms, FAST based platforms will have the majority share as they would have solved for emerging tech and monetization and will already have the pipeline in place. The FAST though may evolve into having a few paid channels for premium broadcasters/channels.  

The broadcasters will remain crucial to have linear TV channels created and served with variety and quality content but will distribute these channels through FAST ‘distributors’. They will have access to much more and real consumption data with digital, as compared to sampled TV viewership data with a few thousand household meters, and their ad sales will be more aligned to the new digital viewership.        

Q. Platforms like youtube have been criticised for showing non-safe ads content to kids. How do you plan to monetize kids’ content? Does your platform offer kid safe advertising and do you plan to align with COPPA?

The issue with such a platform is not only non-safe ads but even non-safe content to kids. There’s both good and bad content for kids but the issue is that kids will get attracted to content that’s not good for them as that’s how it is created; to target kids with what will attract them and not with what’s good for them.   

We have curated kids content and will not have any kids content that parents will not like their kids to watch. We have also implemented kids safe mode that blocks all other content for kids-safe viewing, if enabled.  

The monetization will be through ads played on these channels and we have taken all required steps to ensure that only kids safe ads are played on the kids channels. This includes clear identification and use of applicable parameters whenever there’s any ad request from kids channel playback. Also, we rely only on top ad exchanges and demand partners who have strong checks at their end as well and can also be relied upon kids safe advertising being served on these channels.   

We do not collect any personal information for or from the child. Other mandatory requirements for such regulations, including Indian regulations are strictly adhered to.  

Q. What excites you the most about FAST and the hype that has been created around it?

The three most important and exciting factors, in that order, about FAST in India are – Discovery and Ease of Access, Value, and Business Model. 

Discovery and Ease of Access – Contrary to the popular belief, too many choices are not good and confuses the human brain causing stress and frustration. On-demand platforms throw tens of rails and thousands of posters for the brain to decide ‘what should I watch’. FAST restricts the choices with users switching just between channels and deciding between just ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ for each channel. Also, discovering new categories and genres are easily possible with FAST and very difficult with on-demand. 

Value – For value-conscious consumers in markets like India, the users will see a lot of value in FAST. They may not get massive high budget originals, but they will see a lot of value. They will not feel that they are paying for content that’s not relevant for them and content budgets that have no rationale.

Business Model – There’s a segment talking about low CPMs and challenges with the business model with FAST, but for the India market, that’s the long term and sustainable model in my opinion. One can not have a fixed revenue as subscription costs (subscription model) where the cost of streaming is variable. Every additional hour of streaming is a cost for the company and it hurts even more when accounts are shared across friends and families. Also, the CPMs and fill-rates will grow very fast in India as that’s where the consumers will be, bringing brands to these platforms for more and more advertising.             

Q. Since FAST is ad supported (how obvious :-|), how are you going to handle privacy concerns of the users using the app on their devices?

We need to track user consumption patterns and behavior just to serve them better and personalize for a great experience. We just need to track them at a user ID or device ID level and don’t need personally identifiable information for that purpose. 

While login is not mandatory on our platform, we encourage users to login for cross-device experience and for receiving relevant communications such as new launches. We keep this login and such details both physically and logically segregated from the rest of the pieces so that these PII details are not part of our routine algorithms and analytics. Other than that, we give users required options such as multiple login options and account deletion.      

Q. Are you planning to take RunnTV Global or do you want to scale the Indian market before going global?

We plan to focus on the India market for the next 8-10 months and then expand globally once we have onboarded 35-40 relevant and good channels and gathered good data on content consumption. We have an aspiring target of reaching 1M MAU by the end of 2024 for the India market.   

For RunnTV, the global expansion will primarily be opening our apps to countries with a large Indian diaspora user base and doing the relevant marketing, partnerships and devices expansion. 

This was a great conversation, Manish! We wish RunnTV a best of luck.

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