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SME '19: BritBox' Soumya Sriraman Talks OTT Targeting and Engagement
Streaming Media's Tim Siglin interviews Soumya Sriraman and Efe Akbulut of BritBox at Streaming Media East 2019.

Learn more about OTT at Streaming Media's next event.

Read the complete transcript of this interview:

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Streaming Media East 2019. I'm Tim Siglin, Contributing Editor, with Streaming Media Magazine, and the Founding Executive Director of not-for-profit Help Me! Stream. And today I have two people here from BritBox, and I'll start with the lady on my left, if you'll introduce yourself and give me your title.

Soumya Sriraman: Of course, hi, I'm Soumya Sriraman, I'm the President of BritBox.

Efe Akbulut: Hi, I'm Efe Akbulut, I'm Manager of Analytics of Britbox.

Tim Siglin: Okay very good, so first let's start with what is BritBox, for people in the States, who may not be that familiar with it.

Soumya Sriraman: So, interestingly, I would hope that people in the States are more familiar with it than anywhere else in the world, because that's the only place it's available.

Tim Siglin: And in Canada as well, right?

Soumya Sriraman: Yes, US and Canada. That would be correct, so thank you. So, we're available in the US and Canada, we're a streaming service that's a joint venture between the BBC and the ITV, and we're very proud of the fact that we are the largest collection of British television. And of course, the best.

Tim Siglin: Ah, very good, nice. So from an analyst's insight, what kinds of adoption have you seen in the US and in Canada, in terms of people being interested in watching British television with this kind of model?

Soumya Sriraman: So, I'm going to quickly set it up for you. We have an audience that we find is extremely loyal, very low churn rates, and very high engagement in terms of viewing. And what I think is fascinating is some of the work that Efe's helped us kind of uncover, if you will, in how you've looked at the different states around that. So I'm going to let you talk about that.

Efe Akbulut: First of all, we don't make an assumption, with the OTT, we look each individual person's streaming behaviors, watching behaviors and because in the past the companies was making always assumption, when you make the assumption, you see always, like the best customers in New York or L.A., they're high population places, you know? But we go into each individual behavior and then we discover that middle American regions watch two times as long as users in New York state.

Tim Siglin: As opposed to the coastal.

Efe Akbulut: Yes, and this was a great news for us, as the British content, because it really showed us, BritBox has a taste, each corner of the United States even the middle American regions.

Tim Siglin: And is the content that's watched in middle America different than the content that's watched on the coast? In other words, is Downton Abbey the major hit in--

Soumya Sriraman: Look I love talking about this because I am a die-hard fan of British television. And it never ceases to me amaze me is how actually every state seems to have its own little version of that. Is it an assumption to say that you're an American?

Tim Siglin: I am. Yes.

Soumya Sriraman:  So you know then that PBS, the PBS station system here is very convoluted, right, and that every local market airs its own television.

Tim Siglin: And in fact, the same shows may be on at different times during the day or during the week. 

Soumya Sriraman: And so, what we found, fascinatingly, is that has allowed different states to adopt different shows, right, so you start seeing that in Idaho, perhaps it's this little known mystery, whereas in Dallas, it's comedies.

Tim Siglin: Ah, okay, very interesting. And from that standpoint, I guess one of the other questions is, are things that are a hit for ITV, in the UK, also a hit in the States, or is it an eclectic mix of content that's watched here that may be sort of sleepers in the UK but are more dominant here?

Soumya Sriraman: Oh, for sure I would say very different audience. We absolutely see this time and time again which is what works with the British audience is not what necessarily works for us. That is not to say that there aren't things that we all appreciate equally, but, I'm very surprised that you can't take a hit from there and just bring it over here.

Tim Siglin: I guess, yeah, Coronation Street maybe never really would've made it here, but Downton Abbey made it phenomenally. Now is there also original OTT-only content that's on BritBox, or is it just content that would have aired in UK?

Soumya Sriraman: Now we have a, we believe that we have a flywheel of content success, we talk about it as the Known, the Now, the New, and that is known shows that everyone understands, the now, these are the shows that are being aired in the UK right now, this we think is our special sauce, and the new shows, and sometimes there is a show, that's all three of those.

Tim Siglin: Okay. I remember actually as a kid watching early Doctor Who but having to to stay up at, asking my parents if I could stay up at 11 o'clock at night, because that's when our PBS station aired it on a Saturday nights.

Soumya Sriraman: Well, you have all of that on BritBox. All of the classic Doctor Who is on BritBox.

Tim Siglin: I've actually tried to explain to my girlfriend the ones that I like from my youth and we disagree.

Soumya Sriraman: Tom Baker?

Tim Siglin: Tom Baker, absolutely. Yeah, and then she's a David Tennant fan, and a Matt Smith fan, but honestly I like Matt Smith in The Crown better, but that's a whole 'nother story so, all right.

Soumya Sriraman: Yes, I think that David Tennant's amazing, but we have a show with David Tennant on BritBox called There She Goes, which I just think is amazing.

Tim Siglin: And what's the premise of that?

Soumya Sriraman: The premise of it is David Tennant is a parent of a special needs child. And what I thought was amazing was it doesn't go down the emotional route, it actually shows how real it is for parents and how raw it is.

Tim Siglin: The functional part.

Soumya Sriraman: The functional part of it, and what's amazing is the writer chose to make it comedic, because he's a comedy artist himself. So, it was just amazing to balance out what is a very difficult topic, and sometimes irksome and make it light.

Tim Siglin: Very good. So, one last question for you from the analyst standpoint. Do we expect that what content is viewed here in the States will have some impact on production decisions for content that's aired traditionally in the UK? 'Cause you said don't assume on the data.

Soumya Sriraman: Do I believe that what we do influences what the UK does? To be seen. Right, what I believe is that we are here to super-serve our audience and I think we do this really well.

Tim Siglin: And I'm just going to use an aside. I had a dinner last night with a couple of Brits, and I asked them if they'd seen Catastrophe, which an Amazon show, and they were like, "We're not familiar with that." They looked it up and I said, "You know, it's funny 'cause I just assumed it was a UK show that was brought over to the States, and it turns out, it's an original." All right, very good, anything else you all would like to add before we end?

Soumya Sriraman: We just, I just want to say, I think that it's really exciting that we're here, and secondly, that, believing BritBox is going to grow. So thank you for having us here.

Tim Siglin: Absolutely. Thank you very much and we'll be right back.

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