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New OTT Players Are Investing In Creating Original Content

Voot from Viacom18 has launched seven original shows in Hindi and English with 6-10 episodes in each web series. Voot claims to have about 22 million active subscribers spread across 1,500 cities in India

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


If you haven’t purchased a power bank yet, it is time to get one now. With the streaming in of video-on-demand (VoD) over the Internet, you cannot afford to let your handheld device run out of battery. As if Bolly-wood and Hollywood video content was not enough, players such as Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, Netflix, ALTBalaji, Voot and SonyLiv are heavily investing in creating and distributing original programming in Hindi and regional languages.

There is a significant shift in the number of vernacular Internet users in India, thus forcing the OTT or over-the-top content platforms to bet big on original regional content. OTT refers to transmission of audio-video content via Internet as a standalone product.

But why this shift? It is because the Indian language Internet users will drive the next phase of Internet adoption in India. The vernacular users will be more than 2.5 times of English Internet user base by 2021, says a recent report by consultancy firm KPMG and Google. The numbers projected are quite staggering. As of 2016, the Indian language users stood at 234 million compared to 175 million English language Internet users in India. This will further swell to 536 million by 2021 compared to around 200 million English Internet users, the report says. Also, by 2021, Hindi is expected to have 38 per cent of the Internet user base at 201 million, the rest will be made up of Marathi (9 per cent), Bengali (8 per cent), Tamil (6 per cent), Telugu (6 per cent), Gujarati (5 per cent), Kannada (5 per cent) Malayalam (3 per cent) and several other languages.

The First Movers
After the success of SonyLiv’s Marathi web series Yolo, the channel introduced a Gujarati web series and now plans to diverge into regional short films. Ekta Kapoor’s ALTBalaji launched its first regional show — a Tamil show Maya Thirrai in May and is expanding by introducing regional shows in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu and Gujarati. Voot, the OTT platform from Viacom18 Group plans to offer content in Kannada followed by Marathi and Tamil in the next few months. “Over the next 2-3 years, we believe maximum growth would come as Voot goes deeper into the Hindi market as well as regional market,” says Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures. Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali — all are large segments and we do disservice by calling them “regional”.

With 11 original shows from its stable, ALTBalaji has initiated 5 million downloads since its inception in April. About 25 per cent of ALTBalaji’s original shows are regional. After the success of Maya Thirrai, it is launching Dhimaner Dinkaal show in Bengali. “We want to cater to most of the languages covered in India which have a vibrant ecosystem for creation,” says Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji. “So, there is a Gujarati theatre and a Gujarati creative media industry, a Tamil or Malayalam film industry; there is an ecosystem for creation and therefore, there exists a demand of this language content,” he adds.

Amazon Prime Video, the paid subscription streaming service and an OTT platform, was launched in India in December 2016. It has already streamed its first Indian original, InsideEdge produced by Excel Entertainment. For Nitesh Kripalani, director and country head, Amazon Prime Video, the content is the primary driving force that attracts the consumer to the web portal. Along with providing films and shows from across the globe in various languages, he said that the content generated for original shows are of immense importance.

The Global Play
Amazon Prime is said to be investing around $300 million in the Indian market acquiring rights for Bollywood films and also producing original content. Amazon Prime Video has worked out a five-year deal with Salman Khan Ventures, which  gives it exclusive digital rights to stream films of the actor even before their TV premiere. Rival US-based Netflix is also competing and investing big to grow in India. Hindi film actor Saif Ali Khan has reportedly being roped in by Netflix to appear in its upcoming original series Sacred Games based on author Vikram Chandra’s novel. Joining the cast are actors Radhika Apte and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, reports suggest. Netflix in India has already signed a deal with actor Shah Rukh Khan’s production company Red Chillies Entertainment for his existing and upcoming titles.

Voot from Viacom18 has launched seven original shows in Hindi and English with 6-10 episodes in each web series. Voot claims to have about 22 million active subscribers spread across 1,500 cities in India.

ALTBalaji’s Pantvaidya adds that the cost of content creation in Tamil is different from that of Punjabi. Different languages have got a different price. “But, overall the regional content costs less than one-third of that of Hindi content on an average, and 3-7 times more cost than the conventional TV shows,” he says.

Experts say that on a minute-to-minute analysis, the cost of production on OTT platform is higher than that of television production.

Then why indulge? “The advent of smart mobile phones, mass screen phenomena has become more personal. The consumption behaviour narrowed the consumers consuming video content in their ‘me-space’, while travelling or in their rooms in seclusion,” explains Amit Tripathi, founder and MD, Ideatelabs, a digital communications and marketing company. The VoD is gaining popularity across the country as not only the millennials but the elder generation is also changing their consumption pattern – more than 60 per cent of OTT viewers are of the age 26-54 years. Clearly the game has only begun!

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