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entertainment | IST

Theatres may have reopened, but online content is still a winner

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With viewership and subscriptions on a steady rise since the onset of the pandemic, the challenge for these OTT players now is to keep their audiences hooked.

It’s been over half-a-decade since Indians began logging onto video streaming platforms, but the last 18 months have seen the likes of Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime hit top gear in popularity ratings. With viewership and subscriptions on a steady rise since the onset of the pandemic, the challenge for these OTT players now is to keep their audiences hooked.
A fortnight ago, Amazon Prime Video took its first step to making that happen, by turning OTT distributor, with the launch of its latest service, 'Prime Video Channels’. The feature provides Prime users with single-platform access to video content on eight other OTT apps and services including names like MUBI, Lionsgate Play, Hoi Choi and Manorama Max.
Amazon says the need for content consolidation is more relevant now than ever before, given its own consumption trends. "Movies released for audiences in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kanada have seen 50 percent of their audience base outside their home state," says Gaurav Gandhi, country manager (India) at Amazon Prime Video, "There's a great demand for content that was unfulfilled in the past because of distribution barriers that are now being tapped into."
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If breaking distribution barriers is one part of the winning formula, acquiring new and in-demand content is another, especially for a market still in the infancy of video streaming. Netflix, for instance, has released 25 'original' films since March 2020 specifically for Indian audiences. This does not even include non-branded content.
"Earlier this year, we announced a slate of 41 titles which is by far the biggest slate that we’ve announced as Netflix India," says Monika Shergill, vice president (content), Netflix India, "We have big series like Aranyak and Finding Anamika; we are also coming out with the Indian adaptation of Call My Agent — the French comedy series. We have films like Dhamaka and Meenkakshi Sundareshwar too."
However, what has gone a long way in helping video streaming platforms notch up big numbers and gain the confidence to double down on content production is the fact that for a large part of the last 18 months, theatres and multiplexes across India have been shut thanks to COVID restrictions. This has, not surprisingly, pushed more people to consume content online.
Data reveals that as of June, MX Player and Hotstar commanded 60 percent of Indian OTT viewing. At this time, Hotstar boasted of popular content like the IPL and Bigg Boss, while MX Player’s appeal is its affordability, a large part of which is driven by a vast library of free titles.
So, clearly, content is king. In the last three months, Amazon Prime Video has secured the rights to 40 films that would have otherwise had a theatrical release. "In the last two years, we’ve grown three-fold in terms of viewing hours," Gaurav says, "We have seen a large chunk of customers move in and watch new films coming straight to streaming — or watch popular series like Family Man, Paatal Lok, Mirzapur or Mumbai Diaries."
A recent study by Ormax Media reported that as of August, the Indian OTT audience was all of 353.3 billion or just 25.3 percent of the total population. Far fewer Indians — just 96 million — had a paid subscription to OTT content.
The one facet of the Indian OTT market that all players agree on is that there’s ample room for everyone to grow in terms of viewership. But viewership is dependent on content, and with film production scheduling seeing a setback thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, the race to get great content is well and truly on.