Firework plans to become the go-to platform for short video content

Sunil Nair, CEO of Firework, on how the short-format video platform hopes to succeed in India

According to Sunil Nair’s Twitter bio, in his spare time, he’s a “secret agent, cooker, and a kiddie book writer” — with two published books, and another on the way. The 45-year-old CEO of Firework India may not take himself too seriously, but in the world of streaming media services, when he speaks, people listen. And with good reason: back in 2006, he set up the first online video distribution platform, Before heading the newest short-form video platform on the block, he was the COO of Alt Balaji, where he built India’s first subscription-based original video content platform, and held leadership positions at Reliance Jio and Star India.

These experiences should come in handy in his new role — considering Indian over-the-top (OTT) media will overtake South Korea by 2023, to become the eighth biggest market in the world. Revenue is set to increase to $1.7 billion from the current $638 million (according to PWC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023). “While the audience numbers have exploded, the fundamentals of creating content for any video platform have remained the same. People consume content and not platforms,” says Nair. The question is how to create content that keeps the audience hooked.

Sunil Nair

Sunil Nair   | Photo Credit: Ajay Sartape

The sweet spot

Created by US-based Loop Now Technologies, Firework began operations in the country in October 2019. Apart from the 30-second duration, what sets them apart is their “reveal” videos. Creators can shoot both horizontal and vertical video in one shot, while viewers can twist their phones for a new perspective which shows more of the scene. The free app is seeing 24 minutes of watch time a day per user, across three sessions. That’s 16 to 18 videos per session.

Nair explains, “While we may think that the ‘sweet spot’ is three minutes (on Facebook) and 20 minutes (on YouTube), we have to understand that each platform caters to a different need. Long format content is mostly watched by Gen X and the millennials, while Gen Z prefer the short format.” He believes that “one has to have the skills of an ad film maker who can sell a ₹50 lakh car in 30 seconds”.

Great storytelling mandatory

In India, OTT developed rapidly in the last four to five years, and currently, we have 32 active players including broadcasters and international players. China pioneered short format content with Kuaishou (better known as Kwai), which catered to people who had a long commute. “It is tough to watch something with a complex storyline while in transit. Short format content allows you to consume a steady stream of things without committing a long stretch of time,” explains Nair.

The reveal option

The reveal option  

He believes that if you tell the audience a great story they will consume it in volumes. Calling Firework the Netflix equivalent of short-form videos, he says, “There’s too much of reliance on memes and mimicry, which leads to a monoculture that is neither innovative nor fulfilling. We are woefully short of good original content. For a population such as ours, currently, we only have around 1,200 hours of original content from all platforms put together. We need at least 30,000 hours.” Openly critical of lip-sync and cringe content, Nair admits that he will happily trade 300 million users for 50 to 60 million “who can be part of high-quality content creation”.

Medium vs content

Firework has been busy, collaborating with well-known talent to create original content. They have launched a series of 30-second short films (@Flashfiction), directed by award-winning Kannada director Chaitanya KM. The films span different genres, including horror. Reel, Reveal, Rajeev is another reality/docu-series on popular actor Rajeev Khandelwal. Regular users like vegan advocate Chaitali Pisupati are documenting everyday life — including her trek to the Annapurna Base camp. “Then there is Rena Abraham, a 14-year-old who belts out the blues, or Harish Bijoor, a brand consultant who gives management gyaan and interesting trivia about market trends. Quality is maintained by content moderation, which is a priority. This happens in real-time, with a combination of the machine-human interface at our US facility.” This is to ensure that explicit, vulgar or bigoted content is weeded out.

This year, Firework aims to reach three to five million daily users in India. “We will be investing $20 to $30 million to build a content base and start creator programmes to encourage the community. The advertising is not based on vanity metrics be it likes or reposts; it is purely based on video views and engagement,” he concludes.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 11:41:51 PM |

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