After striking a deal to stream its most popular show on Netflix, Pocket Aces Pvt. has successfully scored funding from a marquee Silicon Valley investor, as per reports by Bloomberg
The tiny digital studio has raised $14.7 million from Sequoia Capital, DSP Group, 3one4 Capital and others to bankroll content aimed at pushing Indian shows beyond hackneyed Bollywood formulas -- like “saas-bahu” or mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law dramas, points the report
The startup aims to hook the large mobile audience while trying to move away from “familiar staples” that the viewers have already been watching. Therefore, the funds will be used to get into gaming content, making strategic acquisitions and increasing production from 12 to 30 shows a year.
The Indian market has become very competitive for Over The Top (OTT) platforms with players including streaming giants Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar. First-time internet users are believed to consume entertainment majorly on their mobiles. It is also estimated that the current 500 million smartphone user-base can step-up to 829 million by 2022 by Cisco Systems Inc. cited in the report.
In the creative and plentiful OTT market, this Mumbai-based startup is out to make a name for itself by using artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning, which is a form of AI, will be used to test genres, actors and plot lines in pilots before spinning them into longer shows for streaming platforms, social media channels and its own apps highlights the report.
"Our shows garner 500 million views per month and we aim to hit 1 billion monthly views by 2020," said co-founder Aditi Shrivastava to Bloomberg.
The startup took off in 2014, but the idea was conceived in the dorm-room of the undergraduate founders.
Founders Anirudh Pandita, 34, and Ashwin Suresh, 35, had been engineering students at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign before they took up a job on Wall Street. Later, Aditi Shrivastava, who is now married to Ashwin Suresh, joined the team to ideate further. Shrivastava was a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alum. The team successfully launched their first show the following year in 2015.
The 145-person Pocket Aces team have an average employee age of 23 years. The focus from day one has remained on mobile consumers which doesn’t work like a conventional distribution channel. The company now syndicates content to a variety of companies, from Emirates Airline to ride-hailing service Ola and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s video-streaming service Youku Tudou, points the report.
The company has several originals lined up for Amazon and Hotstar in India. Now, the deal has turned sweeter with a global deal with Netflix. Moreover, the report points that it’s negotiating with multiple Hollywood production companies to create content.
“Most studios still suffer from the HIPPO effect,” said Suresh to Bloomberg, invoking the acronym for highest-paid person’s opinion or a tendency to defer to the most senior decision-maker.
“Ours is decentralized and very data-driven.”
Pranav Pai, the managing partner at venture backer 3one4 Capital, calls the startup’s approach a “data-driven, continuous feedback loop” that helps improve stories and production.
Pocket Aces crunches data to gauge the popularity of actors, who then get cast in bigger shows. “We don’t have people sitting in a room taking decisions,” Pandita added in the report.
The startup in a way clears space for possibility of nepotism in the fields of acting, production and direction.
Another thing worth noting is that Pocket Aces’ content tends to avoid the hero-always-wins happy-endings favoured by big-budget Bollywood films. It also changes the slower-moving plots of Indian soap operas.
An example can be taken from the show Little things which is not afraid to showcase emotional upheavals, career trauma and personal aspirations of an unmarried couple in Mumbai.
“Young people have moved on,” Suresh said to Bloomberg
Little Things, which started as a short video, went on to become a series. While the Season 1 is available on YouTube for free viewing, Season 2 of the show is now streaming on Netflix.
Ananya Ivaturi, a 19-year undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, is a fan.
"It’s a modern take on a cute relationship," said Ivaturi to Bloomberg.
"Most of the family dramas on TV are exaggerated and irrelevant to the younger audience. They have regressive portrayals of women."
Pocket Aces fearlessly takes up subjects around homosexuality, cohabiting outside of marriage and divorce.
What the Folks is another show where the protagonists debate onscreen about confusion around having children.
In Adulting, two young women discuss what lines can be crossed in an office romance. These conversations are not seen on traditional mediums
“There is a great hunger for good content,” Pandita adds.