India’s OTT industry is seeing the rise of regional language video streaming platforms
An annual subscription for Hoichoi is priced at Rs 599.
After Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar started acquiring and developing regional language content, a clutch of language-specific video streaming platforms has emerged to cater to the non-Hindi speaking markets. SVF Entertainment-backed Bengali OTT platform Hoichoi, launched in 2017, was one of the first movers in the category. Three years on, there are exclusive platforms that stream Telugu, Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Malayalam and Marathi content.
Manorama Max, a Malayalam online entertainment platform online, made its appearance in late 2019. Aha, a platform for Telugu movies and shows, Talkies, a streaming service for Tulu, Konkani and Kannada content, and Planet Marathi, targeting Marathi speakers, were all launched in 2020.
In October, Disney+ Hotstar announced a slew of Tamil original shows and movies. Prior to that, Amazon Prime Video streamed Tamil Comicstaan in September. But the demand for regional content far exceeds what mainstream platforms have to offer, say industry watchers. Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte, says, “Mainstream apps will always have language feeds and big budgets for certain productions. But their focus will be on the larger piece of the pie, which could be Hindi, and perhaps English, for the subscription market.”
This is why Nikhil Acharya, co-founder and head – product, Talkies, is confident about the opportunity that niche languages like Tulu and Konkani hold. “Mainstream OTT platforms are yet to take interest in Kannada. Tulu and Konkani content may be off their radar, because the demographic for these languages does not suit those platforms,” he says.
Original content is the main draw on these platforms. Hoichoi, says its co-founder and director, Vishnu Mohta, was launched with an intention to offer premium original shows starring marquee actors, made by prominent directors from the Bengali film industry. Over the last three years, Hoichoi has made nearly 70 original shows.
New entrant Aha is aiming to create 52 originals next year. Sun Nxt, which is yet to introduce originals, reportedly plans to invest Rs 200 crore in producing content from Q4 FY21.
Production houses, too, are shifting focus to regional language shows. The promoters of Bodhi Tree Multimedia, for instance, have set up Bodhi Studio exclusively for original shows on regional platforms. Mautik Tolia, MD, Bodhi Tree Multimedia, says that Bengali, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu are emerging as the four leading languages for regional content. And budgets aren’t limiting either. “Regional OTT platforms can match international and national streaming platforms in terms of budgets for shows,” he adds.
Despite SVoD being a tougher model to crack, these platforms have chosen it over generating revenue from advertising. Mohta says the motivation comes from the fact that Facebook and Google dominate the digital advertising ecosystem. “All other platforms are vying for a sliver of the digital ad pie,” he says.
An annual subscription for Hoichoi is priced at Rs 599. Aha has a yearly plan of Rs 699, which is on offer for Rs 365 now. Manorama Max’s annual subscription costs Rs 499, while Talkies charges Rs 199 for three months and has a one-week package priced at Rs 99.
This pricing strategy is designed to attract viewers from non-metros. “In the large metros, these platforms will be competing with leading OTT players, that target high-income individuals, to drive subscription revenue. So, they will need to go to tier II and III markets and deliver appropriate content,” says Thakkar.
Hoichoi, Manorama Max and Aha offer limited free content once a user signs up, and place their premium content behind paywalls. Additionally, Hoichoi streams dubbed content on other OTT platforms like MX Player to expand its user base. Bundled offers are also being deployed to acquire customers.
Indian expats form a large part of the target audience for these platforms. Mohta says that 40% of Hoichoi’s users are not based in India. To make the most of the international audiences, which bring in eight to 10 times higher ARPU than domestic users, platforms price their international subscription packs on par with other OTT players in those markets. For example, Hoichoi charges $9.99 per month in international markets, while Aha charges $7.99. Ajit Thakur, CEO, Aha, shares that international revenue is expected to account for 20-30% of the overall pie.