Pandemic push: OTTs place their bets on regional content

By: |
October 4, 2020 6:30 AM

The platform is mooting creating originals in Telugu at a later stage as Viacom 18’s Colors Telugu channel has a considerable base in the market.

The firm announced an upcoming slate of 25 original series and two direct-to-digital releases taking the total number of such films to three. (Representative image)The firm announced an upcoming slate of 25 original series and two direct-to-digital releases taking the total number of such films to three. (Representative image)

Looking to leverage the pandemic-led uptick in subscriber base, over-the-top (OTT) platforms are set to tap into the growing appetite for regional content.

Vishnu Mohta, executive director at SVF and co-founder Hoichoi, said Covid-19 has expedited consumers’ shift to digital video by at least two years. The platform claims to have 13 million subscribers that include direct and those acquired through partnership with telcos.

Hoichoi is signing up big directors and actors to create exclusive films for the platform — one such project, Tasher Ghawr starring Swastika Mukherjee, is already streaming. Rather than doubling down on the slate of original series, the strategy is to make existing web shows bigger in terms of scale and cast.

The firm announced an upcoming slate of 25 original series and two direct-to-digital releases taking the total number of such films to three.

“We want to capitalise on the opportunity as not many films are getting released. While we made inroads into tier II and III towns during this period, we also acquired customers in places like Argentina and Sweden,” Mohta told FE. About 40% of the platform’s revenues come from international users.

Voot Select will soon make its foray into regional originals. To begin with, the platform will produce shows in Kannada, Marathi, Bengali and Tamil. At present, Voot’s regional library is limited. Gourav Rakshit, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, said the SVOD-only platform’s proposition to stream television shows 24 hours prior to TV broadcast clicked well with the audiences in regional markets, thereby promoting the company to consider producing original regional series.

Rakshit hopes the regional play will help shore up its subscriptions in tier II cities and beyond, the markets they are targeting and where the company’s broadcast business already has a fair share of consumers. At present, consumption on Voot Select is skewed towards the metros. “Although the time is ripe to raise the pricing, we will not do so, as affordability is key to winning customers in tier II cities and beyond,” Rakshit said.

The platform is mooting creating originals in Telugu at a later stage as Viacom 18’s Colors Telugu channel has a considerable base in the market.

Ali Hussein, CEO at Eros Now, said being a mass platform, regional movies are central to the firm’s programming strategy and will continue doing so. While the focus languages will primarily be south Indian, Bengali and Marathi, the company is also mooting addition of a couple of more languages to its movie library.

Besides, Eros, which has had a fair run with Hindi original series, plans to launch regional web series in due course. The strategy is to run 80-100 minutes of regional content under the Eros Quickie category that streams short format programmes primarily for catering to mobile audiences. The section is behind paywall within the main app. The viewership of Eros Now Quickie further allows the firm to strategise for long-form originals. “Regional languages are increasingly gaining precedence. For instance, in certain pockets of Maharashtra as an example, the share of time spent on Marathi content is surpassing that of Hindi in terms of overall consumption,” Hussein said.

Nachiket Pantvaidya, Group COO, Balaji Telefilms and CEO at AltBalaji, said people sampled OTT content during the pandemic and the firm did not have to spend money to acquire new customers. Earlier, the company’s focus was on the top eight cities but now the idea is to broaden the base in tier II, III cities and the programming strategy will be pivoted around these markets. AltBalaji, which has a product shelf of 64 Hindi shows and a further 20 to 24 shows in the pipeline for the fiscal, aims to launch shows in one south Indian language in the next nine-12 months. “We have refocused our creative strategy on tier II, III towns and mass India, hence the proportion of shows meant for the top eight cities has gone down. People like the content that we put out and we are well-positioned for mass India,” Pantvaidya said.

Analysts at Deloitte estimate the online video services industry to grow at a CAGR of 30% during FY20-24 to reach $2.5 billion. The industry size was pegged at about $0.6 billion in FY19.

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