When you take the digital route to entrepreneurship you are treading on a path hitherto uncharted. That is how the journey began 4 years ago for the Southern digital juggernaut, Silly Monks Entertainment. With two media and entertainment specialists who dared to dream big at the helm, began this exciting journey into a niche of digital entertainment.
What, you could ask, is Digital Entertainment? The Internet in its short lifetime thus far has successfully turned the very definition of ‘entertainment’ around on its head! When Doordarshan aired its very first ‘entertainment channel’ way back in the 1990s, it was considered nothing short of a revolution in the realms of entertainment in the country. Gone were the days when one had to depend on the wandering troubadours for regional entertainment or news was the only ‘programme’ one could look forward in a day! Today the country is on the cusp of another revolution of sorts – in the field of visual entertainment dispersed digitally… right into your hands! That is the reach and power of ‘Digital Entertainment’.
But then, like Uncle Ben advised Peter Parker (for all the uninitiated, we are talking about Marvel comic hero Spiderman here) – ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’. The team at Silly Monks takes this responsibility of charting into unknown territories very seriously, despite is unconventional name. Excerpts from a tête-à-tête with Sanjay Reddy (SR), Founder & Managing Director of this vision that keeps on growing:
SR: When you start with a dream, you find a way to make it happen. That has been a belief I have adhered to over the years. Having spent over two and a half decades working in different media companies, I felt I was ready to redefine the adventure that is communicating to the masses – starting my very own channel. But quickly realised that the current economic scenario was certainly not ready for investors to cough up the 250 crore that I sought in 2012. Rather than giving up on the dream, in September 2013 with the help of my friend Anil Pallala, the journey to creating our own space began!
Anil and I quickly understood that in the years ahead, the turf wars for communicating with the masses would shift from the television channels onto the digital world. Just like television took over from the print medium in the late 1900s in its ability to effectively reach out to the masses, so would the Internet gradually replace the ‘idiot box’ to a great extent. Programming can be restrictive over the television channels with the ‘time sharing’ not easy in terms of vernacular vs English programming. The Internet on the other hand was fast growing in its reach, what with affordable higher bandwidth broadband and restructuring of TRAI rules, that made it mandatory for the telecom operators to make mobile data more affordable for the masses. The boom was just round the corner!
The entrepreneurial journey however was not easy. To create our own niche as a digital entertainment platform, we had to break through entrenched mindsets of the entertainment industry that failed to fully appreciate the potential of the future of creating digital footprints as part of their marketing strategy. Think about it this way, in today’s times what is the first thing one looks for when you are introduced to a new person or a product or even a company. We ‘Google’ it! So what are we then basing our initial idea or homework on? Information that is available digitally – easily accessible and definitely part of their identity. What else is digital marketing but creating digital property in the attempt to reach the end customer or consumer of the content? It took us over a year to make people understand how we can add value to their projects. Today we have top film producer and distributor SaiKorrapati of VaarahiChalanaChitram as an angel investor! On the other end of the spectrum, Sreenivasa Reddy Musani, a BITS Pilani and University of Texas alumnus who has spent nearly two decades handholding Fortune 1000 businesses to early stage start ups globally to achieve their business goals through technology, is our other angel investor. That in it was a quantum leap of faith in our deliverables.
The ever-evolving media ecosystem meant ensuring a vibrant team that is clued in on the changes in the environment. With equal parts formal qualifications and street smarts, the team brings with it an element of uniqueness to what we do and how we do it. Unafraid to course correct, we constantly reset the bar in terms of performance standards.
We have often been asked the ‘story’ behind our unique name. Inspired by the ideology of the Transformers – a movie that is the true embodiment of evolution and innovation – and in part by the fun quotient of the team, ‘Monks’ is a short derivative of the apparently silly monkey. So, while we may appear ‘Silly’ with our unique name, we believe in the energy and intelligence of the ‘Monk’ey to epitomize us as a team!
Our business model is structured such that it allows for multiple avenues of revenue generation. The mainstay being content generation/ curating for YouTube thereby working on advantage share, retainer revenue where we manage the social media properties of the clients and get a share from the views and advertising. But added to this is the arm of the company that deals and manages original music bands, Monkstar Music. Touted as the first ever ‘indie’ music company in the country, we take pride in providing a platform for independent musicians. We have forayed into co-producing Telugu films & web series too! Event Monks has taken the company into the ‘Event Management’ space over the past years with uniquely curated events.
Going forward, the coming days will see many new additions to the portfolio of offerings from this ever vibrant team – foray into merchandising prominent amongst them.
In the famous words of Victor Hugo, renowned French poet, novelist, and dramatist – Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come
Drawing upon years of collective experience in the fields of technology, media and content creation, we at Silly Monks Entertainment believe our time has come….!
The growth of the company has been phenomenal. What would you credit this to?
SR:In terms of revenue growth, from a humble 33 lakhs in the first year (2013-14) Silly Monks has indeed come a long way, even if I say so myself, to a projected 4500 lakhs for 2020-21. It has been a journey of revelation of our strengths and core beliefs of creating something unique and yet keeping the scope of constant evolution as the baseline, being the trendsetter of sorts is how we have positioned ourselves.
We’ve been told, we have a finger in way too many pies, but the company that started with a mere 2 channels in 2013 on YouTube, today proudly has a whopping 975+ channels to showcase for its ability to redefine the ‘unique’.
This steady growth has been possible in so many ways thanks to over a whopping billion minutes of watch time in October 2017, brought in by over 10.5 million subscribers. It is the stickiness of our subscriber base that has given us the fortitude to constantly push the envelope to remain one of the top YouTube MCNs in country.
While our focus is predominantly creating and managing content for YouTube, we are steadily making forays into the movies (both distribution and production) as well as remaining on top of the game with our music acquisition portfolio through our mVAS vertical. While our movie and short film acquisition numbers are showing steady growth we believe in creating a larger base with aggregating for various OTT platforms simultaneously. All in the name in ‘finger in the important pies’ !
Thus it is safe to say we cannot attribute our phenomenal growth story to any one source but to our willingness to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and strive for excellence along the way. We operate on the belief that going forward, to be a successful digital entertainment company (maybe we can slowly extrapolate that term to ‘channel’ to bring us a full circle to where our dreams began) we must learn to narrate the stories exactly as the consumer likes or dislikes. Thus for us, content is indeed king, and we believe that is where our strength lies… that we are never willing to compromise on it.
You’ve talked about your own music and event management company. So what else is new on the block for Silly Monks?
YouTube definitely ensures our bread and butter… but providing for the jam is where the joy is. Our very own music company, Monkstar Music and our event management co-owned initiative, Event Monks have been the new babies on the block in these past few years. Baby steps yet… but with our head in the stars, we believe we will not only land on the clouds but surely acquire some sheen while we are at it. Monkstar Music is giving a whole generation of indie musicians a platform to express, create and garner fame. We believe in not only promoting these raw talents but also curate a breed that will recreate music as we know it in the country. With a fully equipped in-house studio, we ensure a comfort zone of creative independence to these talented individuals. On the other hand, we are also quickly garnering fame in curating one of the largest Arts and Music Festival, Monkey Town, a la WoodStock of yore, this being our 2nd edition in the works, through Event Monks.
What else is new? Let’s see. We have a strong Celebrity Management vertical that not only manages the digital properties of celebrities, but also look at newer avenues of bringing them to the masses. Our future looks even more exciting with our very own OTT platform in the making and forays into merchandising. All of this stems from our understanding of a 360 degree approach to entertainment!
Do you believe your strength lies in your affiliations? Does that ensure the quality of your delivery process?
SR:Mark Ambrose famously said – “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”
At Silly Monks, we have a saying that to “keep your customers happy is definitely what drives us, but to keep the best affiliations in our bag is definitely what makes sure we ARE THE KINGS”!! Our affiliations with industry giants have played such a strong hand in inking our story. We proudly associate ourselves with some of the biggest names in digital property management, OTT platforms, social media, movies, music … and the list goes on – YouTube, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Yupp TV, VuClip, Spuul, Hungama, Idea among them.
Along with all else, we have had the good fortune to have worked with producers of some of the biggest blockbusters out of the Southern movie industry in recent times – viz. #Baahubali, #Rudramadevi, Shankar’s #I, #Aagadu, #Peruchazhi, #Kali, #Magalirmattum, #Garudavega.
Our strengths also lie in our multiple verticals dedicated to digital publishing and management. This not only allows for transparency of functioning but also allows for independent management bandwidth led by industry experts. We believe it is opportunities of the 13000 cr. ad spend market on the digital medium that motivate us, with the world wide web increasingly establishing itself into a mass market medium for products.
The very essence of associating with the big players in the domains we are in has ensured we learn to play with the big guns and the only way to survive in that scenario is definitely quality deliverables. Not only for the content produced in house but also what we acquire or curate externally. Today’s flavour is very easily off the shelves tomorrow in this market of plenty. The consumers of digital content have way more choice that we had growing up, thus the fervour that defined our keeping up with our favourite shows in television, be it Star Trek or Chitrahaar back in the 90s, is much harder to achieve these days. With the thousands of channels and millions of content creators that are out there, unless we continue to offer quality you can be sure to be a forgotten has-been before you’ve counted your numbers next quarter.
So, yes, we have very strict guidelines on what we acquire, offer and manage and definitely who we associate with.
This is a question we like to ask all major digital media companies – with so many players in the OTT space these days especially large media houses, how do you see yourself growing among these big broadcast networks?
SR:We at Silly Monks believe that the OTT space is only now beginning to define itself, thereby allowing for immense potential of parallel growth as also carving out niches. Just because there are large broadcasting networks in the fray does not necessarily mean the pie is all carved up. With the advent and wide spread shift to 4G/5G bandwidth, the players have shifted from the traditional mode of ‘watching’ from television to laptops and smartphones. There is no such prime time qualification of news or content delivery any longer. What was considered prime time slots of viewership even 5 years ago, has undergone a sea change since. A whole generation is skipping the TV world and getting on to watching on mobile straight.Being consumer choice driven, each new content creator creates his/ her own prime time, backed up the viewer and reach analytics that allows for better positioning. How and why should we then believe that the big daddies of broadcast network networks know it all? Frankly, beyond a point, I believe they are limited by their content and delivery models that are slow to change and adapt. In the coming decade, the traditional television content consumption will be gradually over taken by the Internet based consumption. Therefore for us new players, the ‘content universe’ is yet being defined and the more the number of players, that much more exciting the game can be.
If we look at the OTT landscape as it is unfolding in the country, this is what it looks like:
So, talking of who we are up against, we choose to be inspired by the likes of – #PingDigital, #CultureMachine, #Qyuki, #TVF, #NirvanaDigital to name a few.
So bring your A game to the table, folks!
You’ve talked of letting the vast opportunities drive you. Care to elaborate?
SR:I have talked about how we do not see the large broadcast networks as a threat but as allowing for us bring on our A games. This strong sense of belief comes not from over-confidence, but from the fact that our team has a large collective experience of those very large corporations with the added vision of creating our own niche. That to me will be most the potent contributor to our future success.
Apart from knowing whom our competitors in this space are, we are also focused on the bigger picture in terms of technology driven numbers. If we say, wireless technology is poised for a boom, these following numbers prove just how quickly we have adopted and adapted to new technology in our country.
And those are just the numbers for wireless data subscribers. Since our play is completely over the Internet, let me run you through the user base growth and the projections we believe to be true –
Given our subscriber base lying in the Indian regional language section, the potential is humongous to say the least.
Even if we were to look at the potential in terms of advertisements that are slowly growing in numbers (away from the hitherto traditional forms of newsprint/ radio or television advertising), there is a whopping average growth projection in digital advertising (30%), mobile advertising (51%) and digital video advertising (40%). Those numbers are definitely worth chasing.
So who is Sanjay Reddy, away from carving out his own niche in the digital entertainment space in India?
SR:Born into an armed forces family, discipline was something you took for granted as the building block of personality development. Added to that, my years working in some of the giants of media like Zee, Walt Disney, ESPN, Sony, Sun helped inculcate the intrinsic business values that I chose to make a part of my own team.
A national level silver medalist trained shooter with adventure sports in my DNA, I have enjoyed my forays into acting and producing movies too. I choose to think of it as allowing for ‘life’ to keep my work in balance, believing strongly that without such balance we fail to grow as individuals. Having said that, I expect the same versatility from my team too!
Therefore, it would be safe to say with Sanjay Reddy what you see is definitely what you get. A successful entrepreneur.An actor and producer. A great mentor. A devoted family man.