Broadcasters take the digital-first route to drive subscriptions on their OTT platforms
Broadcasters are luring viewers towards their own paid video streaming services by adopting the ‘first on OTT’ formula. Viacom18, for instance, has created an OTT version of its reality TV show Bigg Boss (hosted by Karan Johar) which started streaming on Voot six weeks ahead of the TV show (hosted by Salman Khan) being telecast on Colors. Star Plus’s reality show Dance+ will be showcased on Disney+ Hotstar, before the TV telecast.
A report by Media Partners Asia (MPA) predicts that India’s direct-to-consumer SVoD subscriber base could grow to 193 million by 2026, from 88.7 million in 2021. SVoD revenues are expected to grow from $800 million in 2021 to $1.8 billion by 2026.
Will traditional TV viewers make the switch to online video streaming?
With these TV-OTT integrations, platforms hope to bring in a new cohort of users into the OTT fold, by weaning them off the AVoD-led catch-up habit. The trend of digital-first movie releases got a wider demographic onto OTT platforms last year. “Until now, OTT platforms had built an audience base largely among young Indians who consume edgy content. TV, traditionally, has been skewed towards a family audience,” notes Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte. “These platforms are seeing potential additional viewership from the older demographic that is beginning to try out video streaming platforms.”
Expanding the user base of these platforms calls for big bets. Gourav Rakshit, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, calls Bigg Boss on OTT a “large-scale experiment”. “Bigg Boss has a strong following on Voot. Further, the viewers of the show are not passive consumers of content; they have conversations about what happens on the show and are highly involved. This gave us the confidence to have an OTT edition of the show.”
He adds that digital gives the platform an opportunity to expand the fandom of the network’s shows. “Television as a medium excels in building network fandoms. It is incumbent upon the OTT platform to not just inherit the fandom, but also build upon it,” Rakshit says.
Zee5’s paying subscribers get access to the platform’s OTT-only spin-offs of TV shows such as Qubool Hai, Jamai 2.0 and Ishq Aaj Kal. “We have developed exclusive OTT content by creating off-season crossovers from TV to OTT, building on TV shows that enjoy strong loyalty among audiences,” says Manish Karla, chief business officer, Zee5 India. He believes that there is more room for experimentation on OTT, and that the medium allows creators to tweak storylines to make them edgier.
Waiting for viewers
According to analysts there is no conclusive evidence yet to show that this tactic is helping broadcasters broaden the reach of their OTT platforms. “The overall thrust for these platforms is to put more and more premium content behind paywalls to increase subscriber revenue,” says Thakkar.
Broadcaster-led OTT platforms are working on improving their bank of original content to accelerate customer acquisition. For instance, Disney+ Hotstar plans to introduce more than 10 originals and new seasons of four existing shows in the near term, in addition to four movies, while Voot recently acquired the rights to the LaLiga matches in India for the next three years.
MPA estimates that India’s video streaming players will invest $1 billion in content in 2021. Acquired and commissioned local originals, which account for 30% of this pie, will increase to 40-45% in the future, the report states. However, these are still early days for India’s SVoD journey. Platforms are still sacrificing profitability in the quest for consumers, analysts say.
Industry executives have found that paying OTT subscribers belong to the top six or seven cities in the country, and are in the 22-40 age group. “Consumers will pay to watch content that is exclusive to the platform, and not just something that premieres on OTT ahead of television,” says Nikhil Dalal, engagement manager, RedSeer Consulting.
Further, the price point will play a crucial role in determining whether a consumer will pay to watch. Dalal says, right now, barely 10% of all OTT viewers are paying subscribers. Platforms are already reducing fees to encourage greater sampling. Zee5 is offering an annual subscription at Rs 499 instead of Rs 999. Disney+ Hotstar has introduced a mobile-only annual plan at Rs 499.