How BrizzTV Evolved From Delivering Educational Content To Curating Twitter Conversations On TV

Interview with co-founder & CEO Amarendra Sahu about his five year old startup BrizzTV which has evolved from delivering educational content to curating content from Twitter to TV

Amarendra Sahu

Social TV, the concept that allows you to engage with TV programs in real-time with a secondary device like a mobile is yet to become common in India unlike it is in the US. Television is a dominant medium in the country and with the influx of social networks especially Twitter, brands are pushing the second screen concept to netizens.

In India, Twitter has gradually become the second screen device. Besides there are a lot of startups which are working in the same space and generating value. Frrole is one such startup which is making sense of Twitter data in real-time by providing it to television; a phenomenon seen during the recently concluded 16th Lok Sabha Elections.

Last year Twitter had partnered with DTH provider Airtel to bring the tweets to the idiot boxes. The move was interesting and was implemented by another Bangalore based startup BrizzTV along with Airtel and Twitter. Today the startup is focusing on the social space and in reducing the space between traditional and online networks by making sense of the social conversations.

Interestingly, BrizzTV was never built for the social media space. The initial idea was to democratize education and take it to the people who remain aloof to technology. The idea was to bring affordable education in front of television sets.

Life of Amarendra Sahu before BrizzTV

The genesis of the idea lies in the childhood of co-founder & CEO Amarendra Sahu who was born in the small remote village of Bhadrak, 150 km from Bhubhaneswar, capital of the state Odisha. Born to a farmer, the only son in the family along with two sisters, Sahu had been always an achiever in studies. After scoring with flying colours in his 10th board, he moved to Bhubhaneswar in 1997 for his higher studies. The good show in studies kept continuing and he was shortlisted for BITS Pilani to pursue his engineering degree.

But nature had some different plans, Sahu couldn’t pursue his education at BITS Pilani as it was the same year in 1999 when Odisha was hit by the deadly cyclone. “It was June, our houses were completely flooded and things were really in a bad shape. I couldn’t prepare for the IIT that year as I was not aware of it. So I took a break at home and I took the IIT but later dropped the idea because of the expensive engineering fees. I finally decided to opt for the state education and did my electronics engineering,” recollects Sahu.

After graduating Sahu joined Bell Labs as his first company. This was also the first time when the guy from Bhadrak saw quite a bit of money in his hands. During this time change of jobs happened and by the time it was Cisco, Sahu was getting restless with the way things were progressing.

“I was not aware what I was doing and at the same time I was not aspiring for money or materialistic pleasures. I never aspired them from my early days. I knew my heart was in technology, I was looking for options and this was the time I wrote CAT and I made my way to IIMB,” adds Sahu.

IIMB happened in 2009 and this also gave an opportunity to Sahu to get a break from corporate life and re-look at his life and what he wanted to do in the near future. The MBA course turned out to be lucky for him as this was the time when the idea of BrizzTV came up.

BrizzTV – delivering educational content on TV

BrizzTV is a pure reflection of my background. Every time I go back home, I don’t find any kind of digital progress that people talk about in metro cities. I have always believed that technology can rescue a lot of problems in a very interesting way but somehow it never reaches the needy masses in the society. Besides education was a topic that was always close to my heart, so the idea was to be in digital, in education and it had to reach the poor people. This led to the formation of the idea to distribute educational content over television,” informs Sahu who started his startup along with his engineering friend Jitendra Jagadev. He also happens to come from the state of Odisha.

Both friends knew if they could crack the distribution of high quality educational content over television then they could make business out of it. With television being the dominating medium in the country, the co-founders also believed that with this idea they could really reach to the masses of the country and benefit them.

BrizzTV got incubated by IIMB. It made history by becoming one of the startups to be started by a student and also got funded while he was still pursuing his MBA degree. “We got 25 lakhs of seed grant from IIMB since the college was quite excited about the delivery and business model we were trying to crack,” recollects Sahu.

The two member co-founding team was later joined by Krishnan Varadarajan who is the CTO now at BrizzTV. Varadarajan happens to be Jagadev’s boss at Philips and Sahu knew both of them from a pretty long time so the bond was there, something the startup required for a healthy work relationship.

Work experience with set-top boxes of both Varadarajan and Jagadev helped the startup to build its founding base. This led to the foundation of BrizzTV in 2009.

BrizzTV Founding team
(R-L) Sahu, Varadarajan And Jagadev

The startup received a good response from the market. It also got some great television networks to partner along with excellent content but the decision rested in the consumer’s response. “The initial response was good, the pricing was nominal and the day we launched we signed up 300 customers. So making high quality educational programs affordable for masses was really cracked by us,” informs Sahu.

But with time the consumer response died. One of the reasons at that point of time was that the market was a prepaid one, so the consumers dropped as no one was interested to get the service recharged. The other reason that Sahu thinks, which was a big learning for the startup, was that in India the association of TV and education is not that strong. “UGC never made content that would excite people to consume it on TV. The service quality was low and that brought down the perception. Moreover, India is still not ready for digital education and people still prefer physical teachers.” 

Pivot to bring social conversations on TV

In a year and half’s time, the startup realized that TV is more for entertainment, so the brainstorming was to find out how the existing delivery mechanism can be used. This was the time when social networks were picking up in the country and Twitter was really doing well. The startup also realized that TV users are more interested about sports, news and entertainment.

“We could see that Twitter was enabling conversations related to TV and we thought of marrying both TV and Twitter. This is how BrizzTV started focusing on bringing premium content from Twitter to TV,” states Sahu.

The bold move to pivot paid the startup and the Airtel Twitter partnership happened. The service powered by Brizz TV, allowed Airtel Digital TV customers to see what the world is tweeting about popular TV programs, celebrities, sports personalities, etc. on their TV screen itself. At the backend BrizzTV was pulling tweets with the help of Twitter API and was curating the relevant tweets in run time to be broadcast on TV.

Besides making TV understand a tweet was also a challenge. “We were converting the Twitter data in a format that was understood by TV which is accustomed to only video content. We inserted a new layer of data over TV which could be kept open or closed conditionally. We didn’t overlay data over video, a normal work mechanism by a lot of TV channels,” adds Sahu.

Talking about other use cases of BrizzTV, Sahu shared the recent implementation with Times Now.“While we were curating content we also brought in interesting content. During Arnab’s news show, we displayed a lot of tweets from parody accounts. The idea was to make content consumption interesting while having a laid back experience on TV.”

BrizzTV is doing a similar curation implementation with Star Sports during live matches; similar executions are being carried out at MTV, Colors TV, among others.

However, Sahu feels that curation is a misunderstood job as brands understanding of social media is very shallow. “Most of the content that brands deliver on social networks are marketing and promotional messages. They still don’t get the medium.”

BrizzTV_winning_Techcrunch_India
BrizzTV winning TC India

TV industry and road ahead

Talking about the industry Sahu thinks that the TV business moves slow and is not able to keep up pace with the digital and social world. “I wished that they were little more open for startups like us and bit more fast. They are little slow for the pace; technology is growing and if they don’t react then the YouTube’s of the world will get consumer attention faster.”

Having said that, Sahu adds that the industry is accepting the fact that users are consuming social content while watching TV. Most of the TV channels are not bothered with the ROI right now but there is a set who avoid investing in technology and Brizz TV keeps convincing that chunk that the sooner they do it, the better it will be for them.

TV Analytics built by Brizz TV might convince the set of TV players. The product that is at a very nascent stage is tracking consumer behavior while she is watching TV for a period of time. A data that might excite senior executives of the television industry.

Going further the startup wants to focus on TV distributing networks and consumers. The company wants to be in the B2C space by having distribution partnerships. While Sahu understands that second screen is a laid back experience and integration matters, so rather than having a multiple app strategy, BrizzTV wants to be looked upon as a utility service provider.

The five-year old company is now getting traction from large international TV distribution companies with great help from Twitter. The next six months is quite exciting says Sahu without revealing any more details. It’s hard to predict things in the startup world but hopefully we will have some good news to share in the next six months.”

With social and digital space maturing in the country, the 15-member five-year-old startup definitely has a bright road ahead.