Despite the fact that Bollywood is arguably the most productive film industry in the world, its appeal here in the States is scattered. But with South Asians, Europeans, curious bystanders, Indian cultural enthusiasts and many more comprising the audience, why is mainstream appeal still hard to come by?
Well, according to Vinod Bhat (pictured), co-founder of on-demand video service BODVOD, the answer is simple: Bollywood’s presence and distribution is for the most part lacking through the vital media outlets, including cable, online and print.
We’ve seen ZTV, ITV and EchoStar Indian-related programming, but what the New York-based entrepreneur and his cohorts found was that Bollywood films and music were scant or sorely lacking in the digital space, while being relegated to a handful of screens in mid to large markets nationwide.
With that in mind, Bhat & Co. set in motion a strategy to bring Indian movies and music to the masses, first by not only hearing the needs of Bollywood producers, but with the digital content providers stateside. Several meetings and a couple of years later, the result of their discussions and brainstorming was BODVOD, a service which holds exclusive rights to movies, music and TV shows from India, and redistributes the content to cable on-demand, Internet and mobile platforms. Currently with over 30 major distribution affiliates, BODVOD, which counts New York/New Jersey, LA, Houston and Dallas as the largest markets, has not only signed deals with major cable providers, but with online powerhouses including Google Video.
Recently, ADOTAS chatted with Vinod about the state of South Asian media in the US marketplace, the way BODVOD is setting about to change it, the advertising implications, as well as BODVOD’s own branding strategies for 2007.
Hi, Vinod. So what’s the background and strategy of BODVOD?
In terms of what the company does, we hold exclusive rights to a basket of movies and music primarily coming from India—primarily Bollywood music and movies—and we package, distribute and market that on pretty much all digital platforms. Mostly cable video-on-demand, anything delivered using IP protocol—Google Video, iTunes, etc., as well as services run by mobile carriers and also mobile devices.
To date, our distribution is actually in about 11 million households, on all of Time Warner and all of Cox. We’re covering probably around 70% of the South Asian population in the US today. We got into this business really for a variety of reasons. I think when you look at the South Asian market in the country today, it’s probably the most affluent group out of any of the ethnic or even non-ethnic groups that exist. I think the median household income is $68,771 according to the last census update. When you look at education levels, about 61% of them have a college degree. Then on top of that, they’re overall Web and tech-savvy with 81% of them having broadband access in their homes.
It’s a pretty attractive demographic, numbers between 3-5 million people, and tends to be mostly concentrated in or around urban areas—but just across the country entirely. It’s a focused audience, and it’s fragmented when you look at it in terms of the entire audience.
In terms of this audience behavior, Bollywood is the content piece that really transcends all age groups. So it’s not really an older-skewing thing or a younger-skewing thing, it appeals to everybody in the demographic. The primary motive by which people consume this content has been theatrical releases, but there are only about 80 screens in the country that really show Bollywood movies today. But what you’ll notice is that oftentimes, a Bollywood movie will be in the top 20 of a weekend box office gross. It’ll be like #18 or #19, but on a per-screen level, you’ll see that it has among the highest engagement numbers in the industry. So if the average screen pulls in, say, $2,000, the Bollywood movies would be at close to $5-6,000.
The other issue is that the theaters tend to be in down market. So oftentimes, while people might be interested in the content, they don’t necessarily make the trek out to theaters, but they just kind of avoid it entirely. The other aspect of this is really with DVD distribution, and DVDs are not available in a lot of mass-market retail locations like Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy…just because of shelf space issues. Then, the content really isn’t widely available on television at all, and most of the television content like ZTV and Star that have content mostly do a lot of serialized programming—soap operas, sports programming, fashion shows, cooking and other general entertainment. There are certainly movies, but not to the extent that we’re focused on.
What happens is most of these channels are delivered over satellite and not so much available on cable. So, we saw an opportunity that, given the attractiveness of this audience from a demographic perspective, and given the issues with the way in which they currently consume this content, there’s this whole other realm of new media—cable video-on-demand, Internet and mobile, where there was a relative absence of South Asian content. So we wanted to fill that gap.