Exhibition Showcase Talks To Varun Khare, Business Head, Paytm Insider

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ES. Could you please tell us about yourself and your role at Paytm Insider?

Varun Khare. The live performance space is something I’m extremely passionate about, especially music, theatre and lifestyle IP’s. Over the years I’ve explored various aspects – from working on the blueprint for The Aadyam Theatre Festival to building IPs rooted in culture and even programming homegrown and global talent. But what I truly enjoy is being a part of an industry that creates space for creative expression making comedy, theatre, music, art and culture easily accessible to fans across the country. As the business head at Paytm Insider, I focus my efforts on ensuring we curate and partner with artists, event organisers, venues and brands to offer audiences a varied set of live experiences they can choose from in and around their city. From working with some of the best organisers to create Ips to ticketing some of the biggest sporting events in our country, our goal is always to ensure we offer audiences unique, consistent experiences and a space to connect with their favourite performers.

ES. Please tell us about the journey and significant milestones Paytm Insider has reached over the years and how it has been in the forefront when it comes to creative content production, concepts, and implementation?

Varun Khare. 2019 was a milestone year for us having curated and/or ticketed some of the country’s biggest live experiences on our platform – Arijit Singh’s One Night Only, Supermoon Ft. Russell Peters Deported World Tour, Prateek Kuhad’s Winter Tour, The 10th Edition of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Zomaland – the biggest food festival in India including a list of sporting events and the IPL Cricket Series. In 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic, live events were paused and we used this time to reinvent event formats as we focused on further building the platform to include digital event formats thus creating a space where audiences could connect online and creators could reach their fans through virtual events. Creating a digital stage to host events, workshops and conferences was only the first step, we then took it a step further to improve the digital event going experience – introducing interactive features like watch parties, spotlight videos, QnA, polls, live chats which kept audiences engaged and made it a fun interactive virtual experience. Even though live events are back now, digital formats continue to exist in varied formats like hybrid events, metaverse experiences, watchalongs with experts, community meet ups making content accessible globally and still giving artists the opportunity to place their digital content behind a paywall.

This year is another milestone year for us. With the revival of live events we’re seeing a phenomenal interest from audiences across cities who are keen to explore live performances, comedy shows, lifestyle festivals and more. With the upcoming multi-city concerts by Arijit Singh, the revival of The Mahindra Independence Rock Festival, a multi-city tour by Peter Cat Recording Co, Zomaland, Gin Explorers Club, India Cocktail Week, Lil Flea and the return of sports like the Indian Super League, Pro Kabaddi League including a whole lot of comedy ahead, we’re positive that our event season and the end of 2022 will be another milestone for us.

ES. Since the pandemic and the restrictions that came with it temporarily put an end to real world events, what role does your organization play now that physical events have resumed?

Varun Khare. The pandemic changed the landscape of the live entertainment space, but even though physical events are back, digital formats will continue to exist through online communities, watchalongs and hybrid formats. As a company our role is to acknowledge that Covid is still around and be cognitive of the role we play in events ensuring that safety, hygiene and availability of emergency services are prioritised while also working on including more experiential elements that ensure a seamless and memorable experience for all attendees.

ES. In your opinion, what are some of the interactive features that make Paytm Insider stand out?

Varun Khare. We have an end-to-end digital product that enables a great deal of interaction across virtual event formats. Event organisers can choose to set up various interactive features like live chat, QnA, polls, private watch parties including bringing audience members on stage during a digital event. With all these interactive features integrated on the platform, organisers have the flexibility to work them into their event formats keeping the audience engaged throughout the show. Our complete DIY platform gives artists complete control over their event, with a fully equipped backend that enables them to moderate and manage their digital events seamlessly. Onground as well our teams are equipped to seamlessly manage various aspects like F&B with tech integrated products like RFID cards that makes it a smooth process for fans.

ES. What difficulties arise when planning online concerts?

Varun Khare. When planning online concerts there are a number of factors to consider for example securing the right set of licences, ensuring you have worked out any technical hiccups to be able to live stream seamlessly and also chalking out ways to introduce interactive features like live chats, two way communication, polls and watch parties that help you keep your audience engaged throughout the show.

ES. What has your marketing approach for online events been?

Varun Khare. We’ve focused on making the discovery process for users on the platform a lot more intuitive, helping them explore new talent & experiences across a varied range of genres they’d enjoy. During the pandemic with online events our approach has been to expand our reach beyond just key Tier 1 cities and focus on growing audiences in smaller Tier 2 cities too. Post the pandemic when comedians and artists started to tour again, we witnessed an increased interest from fans in smaller Tier 2 cities with shows selling out within a day and a second show being added in the same day.

ES. Are live digital shows sustainable in the long run? What are your thoughts on Hybrid event?

Varun Khare. We’ve seen a fair deal of success with the various formats of digital shows we’ve hosted, curated & produced, however the event format may vary and we’ll see hybrid formats or online communities that encourage discussions, fanclubs including meet and greets and more importantly it will serve as a space where artists can upload pre-recorded content and make it accessible to their fans after a show or tour. I think hybrid event formats will coexist with live events, however it’s important that brands and event organisers invest in the right technology and equipment to ensure the experience is memorable and interactive for fans online.

ES. What is the best part of your job?

Varun Khare. The ability to manage so many different aspects of putting together a live experience with multiple event organisers across so many regions & languages. Working with organisers from the conceptual phase to the programming, production, ticketing, connecting brands with the right event organisers for sponsorships to finally watching the show or tour come together with fans singing along and cheering their favourite artists on stage. It’s not only about making these experiences easily accessible to fans but also ensuring that we continuously push the boundaries in adding experiential elements that make it a memorable experience.

ES. What is one of the hardest challenges that you’ve come up against and what did it teach you?

Varun Khare. The hardest challenge was during the pandemic when we had to adapt and think ahead in the midst of a whole lot of uncertainty. It’s been a journey of experimenting, listening to what artists and fans wanted most and then doing our best to integrate it onto the platform. The biggest lesson the pandemic taught us was to keep the audience and artist experience at the centre of everything we do ensuring we’re continuously improving elements, tweaking features, failing fast but recovering quickly.

ES. What message would you like to share with the industry?

Varun Khare. The live event space especially over the next couple of months is packed with varied live formats across music,comedy, travel,lifestyle festivals and sports. As we work together as partners, event organisers and artists it’s important that we put our audiences at the centre of what we do, going the extra mile to create and continuously improve the event going experience while working seamlessly together as partners to ensure the events are a success.