For Culture Machine, It’s Storytelling Over Viral Videos on Digital, Advertising Age India, Dated- 28th April 2016

For Culture Machine, It’s Storytelling Over Viral Videos on Digital

Digital videos are the ‘in things’ these days and increasingly, a bunch of young talented content creators are finding this to be their ‘calling’. Creators have been coming together launching their own channels and creating content that cuts across all genres of the internet audience and thus attracting a lot of brands to join them in their endeavor as sponsors.

Culture Machine, which claims to be the top digital media network in the country, having crossed 500 million monthly viewership mark on YouTube and 50 million monthly views on Facebook, is one such company.

Culture Machine was founded in 2013 by Sameer Pitalwalla and Venkat Prasad after they met at a conference in USA. The duo realized of having common interest towards creating a big video platform and soon moved out of their jobs to launch the venture.

While Prasad was strong at technology, Pitalwalla was experienced in building brands and had already done that for several big players in the country. Prasad had worked with YouTube and was well versed with analytics. On the other hand, Pitalwalla quit his job at The Walt Disney Company India to float Culture Machine.

The duo clearly identified that there was a huge opportunity present around Indian video content in the coming years. And in just over three years, the organization claims to be the country’s largest digital media network with over 500 million monthly viewership. They have over 500+ content creators across multiple genres of entertainment along with a network of owned and operated channels.

The Beginning

At a very early stage, both Prasad and Pitalwalla recognized that most of the players in this segment were working towards building technology for distribution. So, they decided to create a media company that could distribute content through these systems. “Our founding vision was to first identify what content needs to be created and then go ahead and create it,” shares Pitalwalla.

Culture Machine looked at Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Hotstar and other networks as new cable operators and aimed at using these platforms to create great media brands and media company. “A lot of multichannel networks were building technology that allowed people to optimize videos, payout, make dashboards. We decided to include that but not build upon but as a component because it was mainly meant for aggregation and not towards creating content,” adds Pitalwalla.

When Culture Machine began operations, the focus of the company was only on creatives and the brands it partnered with demanded for creative solutions that could go viral and reach as many audiences as possible. “All this has changed significantly in last few years,” shares Pitalwalla.

The company has already raised 21.5 million dollars in two rounds of funding from Tiger Global, Zodius Capital and Times Internet. At present Pitalwalla and team is offering content that entertains the internet audiences. However, their audience is not restricted to any geography or age group, as their brands enough content to engage with the audiences.

Content for All

Culture Machine works with a lot of content creators who create programming for different brands (content channels). For example, Being Indian, one of the most popular content channels from Culture Machine, was incubated at the organization and includes content that appeals to North India audiences both Male and Female. Similarly, there are channels that offer content in Indian History and Mythology, Beauty, Women, Food, South India and others. Some of the most popular channels of Culture Machine that generate highest advertising revenue for it includes Being Indian, Blush, Epified, Put Chutney, Awesome Sauce.

“When Being Indian was incubated, we were producing content in-house to find what works and what does not. Slowly, we built our technology platform and our capabilities. We used it as a testing ground to find what works and what not. Today, we have sharpened our skills to be able to marry data and content with technology. We have the ability to build good formats, market them, promote it and create strong brands,” shares Pitalwalla.

While both Pitalwalla and Prasad started Culture Machine, one of the biggest tasks in front of them was to understand what content prevails and what people are liking. For example, a 15-20 year old female in South India may like a particular format but the latter may not be liked by members of same age group or lesser in Europe. In order to find a solution to this problem, they started building Intelligence machines and went into data partnerships with top video and social channels.

The algorithm analyses 2 billion videos on a daily basis, and gives a content recipe around what to produce, genres to use, favorite topics among users. Interestingly, Pitalwalla mentions that Culture Machine won Cannes Lions award for top 50 marketing tech startups globally, Foundry 50.

Another interesting problem, which the company faced was that creators were not able to churn video content quickly because it takes 3-5 days for them to create a good quality video. But in order to keep the audiences engaged, the company needed to produce videos at a faster rate. So, they created a video machine that produced videos using any form of audio and text. While people took a lot of time to finish one video, Culture Machine’s video machine churned out videos in seconds and is said to be releasing over 15,000 videos on a daily basis. These videos are running on the social media pages of the content brands.

Going Viral

In 2013, Culture Machine focused on promoting mid-size video formats (under 10 min videos), while as time passed, both short sized and long sized (10 min+) also emerged.

Till now, over 100 advertisers have worked with different brands of Culture Machine and have commissioned and sponsored programs to reach different audiences. For example, it worked on a brand campaign for Havells (Respect for Women), POPxo (#FindYourBeautiful), Indian Army Family, and many others. The company has worked with P&G, Unilever, Ola, Tata Motors, RB, Vodafone and many such big brands in past. It recently partnered with Lakme for its first ever web series Alisha.

“Over the years, advertisers have realized that story telling is more important over viral videos. They now want to reach the right audience and want to stay away from junk audiences. For example, a female brand understands the importance of being associated with a female centric content brand. They have realized the importance of videos for Twitter, Facebook as they now understand that it is the future. And being number one player in the business, we are able to leverage the scale,” shares Pitalwalla.

Currently, Culture Machine’s revenue stream includes branded content (where brands work with the company to create programs), inventory, licensing technology, merchandizing, distribution and syndication of content.

Going forward, Culture Machine aims to build great media brands, which audience and brands can engage with on a daily basis. “We want advertisers to be able to reach their respective target audiences. We want to be a media company with a strong brand in every genre so that audiences can sample our brand or programming. We aim to gather more and more data to understand what genre to create content and which advertisers to reach out to,” shares Pitalwalla.

Read our entire coverage on Culture Machine

There is no doubt that Culture Machine’s USP is its size. “Our DNA is a technology company that produces media, while everybody else is a boutique production house,” points out Pitalwalla. As a visionary, Pitalwalla sees three big opportunities – Immersive Videos, messaging apps growing big and helping media companies to scale and live video.

As per this year’s GroupM report ‘This Year Next Year’, digital advertising is expected to grow by over 47%, which will only strengthen Culture Machine’s business as more advertisers will be making a beeline to their doors.

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