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A Regional Ride

Regional content will play a significant role in taking the OTT video players to the last mile in India and establishing growth

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One of the direct fallouts of the growth in the OTT (over the top) video story in India is the lag between the preference of the audience and the content to serve this audience. The growth in platforms such as YouTube and the rise of video on social media platforms, injected by the strength in mobile, created the demand for digital video consumption, but it also made apparent the dearth of content to match.

In the last two years, it has become evident audiences in India are seeking deep-rooted, longer-format content online as well. According to OTT player Hotstar, 96 percent of watch time on it comes from videos longer than 20 minutes.

Room for growth
According to EY, online video audiences in India are expected to cross 500 million by 2020. India’s pay TV video OTT is also set to evolve with this. A FICCI EY 2018 report, in fact, says that digital video subscription market size alone would be upwards of Rs 20 billion in 2020, which would be a 73 percent CAGR increase from 2017.

Data shows that 8-10 million viewers in India do not watch Indian TV content as it does not appeal to them. Digital is trying to differentiate and capture these early adopters but Indian TV content is not ‘premium’ and has less library value compared to developed markets as per IDFC research. Digital video OTTs, excluding the likes of YouTube, together have created less than 150 titles exclusively for the Indian market, which is less than 410 hours of content.

This pales in comparison to the number of fresh hours programmed every week on Indian television.  

A significant change is on the horizon though. Various OTTs have fresh premium content lined up and announced projects could total another 200 hours.

Original content needed
A number of ‘original content creators’ have made a strong name for themselves by getting on YouTube already, and many of them are seeing pure OTTs as the logical next step. Many of these are now being engaged by the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and others to develop content that gets eyeballs on their free catalogue. More views and stickier customer-base then becomes the stepping stone for charging a small amount subsequently.

“We regularly garner over 350 million monthly views on Facebook and YouTube and are actively followed by over 7 million engaged subscribers across various platforms. We reach more than 50 million people on a weekly basis,” says Anirudh Pandita, Founder of Pocket Aces (creator of web series like ‘Little Things’, ‘What The Folks’, and ‘Adulting’). Launched in September 2015, Pocket Aces was the first company to cross 2-billion views among Indian original content creators.
Another example is ScoopWhoop Media that claims a monthly unique viewership of 30 million users. “We also drive over 250 million monthly video views and our content is consumed 400 million times every month across various platforms. In the next three years, we see this number going up to over 100 million unique users per month with content consumption going up to over 2-billion,” says Sattvik Mishra, Co-founder & CEO, ScoopWhoop (SW) Media.

OTT players engaged a host of established production houses such as Phantom, Excel and Endemol, among others, to create premium quality content for the online viewer. The investments reiterate the seriousness that the industry is placing in bridging the content gap.

Sensing future business opportunities, Mumbai-based KWAN Enter-tainment, a company that offers services in areas of casting, talent management, fashion and modelling, sports management, and live entertainment, too has jumped on the digital content creation bandwagon. Currently, it represents digital influencers such as Bhuvan Bam, popular YouTuber and the creative mind behind YouTube channel BB Ki Vines, and music vlogging sensation Vidya Vox, amongst a host of others. “Our marketplace of influencers has a digital footprint of over 150 million unique followers across social media. This is a fair percentage of the overall Internet population of the country,” says Vijay Subramaniam, Founding Partner and Co-CEO, KWAN Entertainment.

Amplifying content play

As original content becomes more important than catch-up viewing on OTT platforms, there has also been a growth in regional language content. Industry experts, in fact, place this as the trigger that would truly make content the lowest common denominator in reaching out to consumers directly.

One of the global success stories in the OTT brands from India is Yupp TV, which built its brand solely on South Indian content, giving an indicator of the potential in the space.

According to a recent report, by 2021, Hindi is expected to have 38 percent of the Internet user base at 201 million, while 52 percent users will come from regional languages such as Marathi (9 percent), Bengali (8 percent), Tamil (6 percent), Telugu (6 percent), Gujarati (5 percent), Kannada (5 percent) Malayalam (3 percent) and other languages.

“From a ZEE5 perspective, what sets us apart is our network advantage of 500 hours of content each week, a strong regional offering across 12 different languages and focus on creating originals for digital natives. We already have 15 shows available across six languages and over 90 quality originals by FY19 and over 150 exclusive movie premieres in the next 18 months. We have a legacy of gaining leadership in the regional space and that is a forte we intend to capitalise on for the initial phase,” says Tarun Katial, CEO of ZEE5.

Growth trigger - regional
Nearly all OTT players have a plan in play for original content including regional language. Netflix has set aside Rs 500-600 crore per year to create original content for Indian audiences, while ALTBalaji also plans to invest Rs 500 crore in the next three years.

Local content, enriched with regional language, is also helping OTT players remain relevant, relatable as it will eventually widen their audience reach. “Since our launch last year, we have already witnessed a trend where local content has played an important and significant part of our viewership mix. Southern cinema and star-driven films have emerged as among the most successful Indian content in the last decade, finding both national reach and viewers,” says Vijay Subramaniam, Director & Head of Content at Amazon Prime Video.

“And we are just getting started; we have a line-up of multiple new Hindi originals coming up while we already offer latest and exclusive movies in Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Bengali,” he adds.
Subramaniam of KWAN Entertainment says the South India is a major consumption market and is registering high growth in demand, be it content or brands. “Regional content is extremely important for us at KWAN and is one of our key focus areas. Our venture with Rana Dagubatti for KWAN South will be filling the void for original content in vernacular languages in the region,” he says.

“We have seen tremendous growth in languages apart from consumptions spikes from Middle East, Bangladesh, Singapore, etc,” points out Manav Sethi of ALTBalaji that too has launched shows in Tamil and Bengali apart from Hindi.

Deep rooted  

If the growth strategy for OTT players had to be simplified, it would boil down to content coming from partnerships and original creations comprising a regional language plan and re-organising content for digital audiences.

Audiences have made it clear that they seek freshness, variety and depth in OTT content. While there is an existing huge market for catch-up TV, broadcasters are categorising their TV content into ‘seasons’ to make it digital friendly. However, OTT video continues to be an investment industry, and much like media, it is not for the faint hearted despite the massive growth that it has registered in its audience and market size.

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