MAMUN M. ADIL: What prompted The Dawn Media Group to venture into an idea such as Teeli?
WALI TIRMIZI: Broadly speaking, the Group felt that the mainstream media was not fulfilling the needs of Pakistan’s urban young who were not fully relating to what they saw on TV. The vision was to fill this void and create entertainment-based content for young, urban Pakistanis. I don’t always use the term digital to describe our content because even though we are a digital-centric company at the moment, we eventually want to distribute our content on traditional media such as television in order to reach an even wider audience.
MMA: How would you define your target audience?
WT: People in the 16 to 35 age bracket; about 90% of our audience is between 18 and 34 and that is where we want to be. Nearly 65 to 70% are from Pakistan and the rest live in India, Middle East, Canada and the US.
MMA: What factors come into play when you decide what content to produce?
WT: The first question we ask ourselves is whether or not it is reflective of what we deem to be the ‘modern Pakistani experience’. The second question we ask is ‘where should we distribute it?’ This is important because one piece of content no longer works across the board.
MMA: How is the content distributed?
WT: We follow what we call a distribution strategy; this means that rather than being a Netlfix or a TV channel, we are a content company and we look at those platforms as pipes that we aim to fill. We have a presence on Facebook, iflix, Instagram and YouTube and we are talking to other platforms such as Hotstar and Netflix.
When we started out, we wanted to cast our net as wide as possible and we felt that comedy would do this; we wanted to create content that had heavy relatability. Hence, we picked ‘sketches’ – short videos centred on social satire about topics that would resonate with people and make them think or say “So true!”
MMA: Does the content vary according to the platform?
WT: Yes; the way people use Facebook and YouTube, TV or Netflix are radically different and their behaviour on those platforms is completely different. For example, Facebook is a social sharing platform, so not only are you a consumer on it, you are also a distributor. We believe that content on Facebook has to have a conversant quality. For example, there is a BuzzFeed video called Weird Things Couples Fight About. If a girl watches it, she may think it reminds her of her boyfriend, so the chances are she will tag him on Facebook and say something on the lines of – “You totally did this in the morning.” The video allows her to communicate through that content; she would not do this after watching an entire episode of Game of Thrones or a news show on YouTube. That is why content that people can relate to works really well on Facebook.
MMA: What sort of content does Teeli produce?
WT: When we started out, we wanted to cast our net as wide as possible and we felt that comedy would do this; we wanted to create content that had heavy relatability. Hence, we picked ‘sketches’ – short videos centred on social satire about topics that would resonate with people and make them think or say “So true!” Until about June 2018, we were producing two videos a month; we dedicated the first year to understanding the platform, what worked and what did not. We were very lucky because the first video we produced went viral; it was called Darzi Ki Marzi and was released before Eid. It received a million views in about 36 hours. We are now producing four videos a month.
MMA: What other formats have you introduced since?
WT: We have now launched two other formats: ‘conversations’ and short films. The former includes a series called Susar vs Damad. It is reality-based and dissects the relationship between a father-in-law and his son-in-law; it showcases the differing perspectives of old Pakistan and young Pakistan. Our short films range between eight and 10 minutes (sketches are five minutes and conversations three-to-four minutes). They are a YouTube-centric property because they do not have a conversant quality and follow traditional storytelling methods. We plan to diversify our content further and the long-term goal is to have a suite of programming with Teeli serving the master brand with sub-brands.
MMA: What options do you provide advertisers?
WT: Broadly speaking, three options. The first is integration and this entails integrating a brand’s message into our content; the brand is part of the story, be it in the form of product placement or via verbal integration or a combination of both. For example, in our video Disappointed Dads Hotline, we integrated Uber. A young man receives a call from his father who yells at him for taking his car and the son promises he will not touch his car anymore and will use Uber instead, and given that his father is in immediate need of a car will order an Uber for him now. The content integration worked very well; it did not come out as forced and that is very important for us. The second is an association sponsorship and entails the presence of the brand on the video’s thumbnail, the opening title of the video and a presence on all ancillary promotional materials. The third is a call to action; we mention the brand at the end of the video (for example, the audience is asked to buy a certain phone). We also create bespoke custom content; for example, 7-Up reached out to us and we created a video for them. So far, we have worked with several brands such as Maggi, Nescafé, Nestlé, Pepsi, StormFiber and Uber. Sometimes brands come on board for all three options.
There are many talented people in the market; the issue is that not many people understand what we want to do and what we are about. The main difficulty is asking film students to create content for digital because they have to put aside the traditional aspects of filmmaking and create videos for digital, which are shorter and therefore cannot be as detailed as traditional films.
MMA: Who would you term to be Teeli’s competitors?
WT: Anyone in the digital space trying to target young, urban, middle-class Pakistanis; for example, Mangobaaz and Parhlo. What differentiates us is the fact that we only produce videos and focus on storytelling as opposed to listlicles. In fact, I don’t think they are doing what we are doing.
MMA: How difficult has it been to find people with the skill sets you require?
WT: There are many talented people in the market; the issue is that not many people understand what we want to do and what we are about. The main difficulty is asking film students to create content for digital because they have to put aside the traditional aspects of filmmaking and create videos for digital, which are shorter and therefore cannot be as detailed as traditional films; nor can the characters be too complex. Finding the right people has been difficult, although we have been very lucky. It was a combination of luck and perseverance. We are a team of 13 people; we have three writers, four producers, a social media manager, a creative director and an editor, as well as two people on our sales team. All our content is produced in-house, from conceptualisation to distribution.
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