Industry POV

Why OTT players are now eyeing regional content

08 Aug 2017

Just like the humble masala dosa, digital content too is reaching places! Smartphone penetration coupled with the comfort of viewing on multiple devices is fuelling the audience’s appetite to sample

Just like the humble masala dosa, digital content too is reaching places! Smartphone penetration coupled with the comfort of viewing on multiple devices is fuelling the audience’s appetite to sample content. As a result, OTT players are not only seeing high demand for movies and original content but also content in local/regional languages. And with India being a multilingual country, this is a hotbed for opportunities. According to industry estimates, 75% of new internet users will be from rural India and 75% of new internet users will consume data in local languages by 2020. OTT players which started off with Hindi and English content will naturally look to expand beyond these two languages and reach out to wider audiences across India where Hindi may not be the first language. “According to studies proving that regional content consumption drives thrice the amount of engagement and accessibility, the future rural internet consumption is predicted to amount to 70% of the demand,” states Zafar Rais, CEO, MindShift Interactive.

OTT players like SonyLIV, ALTBalaji and Viu are upping their investment in regional language content production, while the likes of Amazon Prime Video are building a strong base of regional content through various licensing deals. In fact, Sun TV network recently launched its digital content platform — Sun NXT — to enable viewers to watch its portfolio of content on-the-go. Will regional become the new battleground for OTT players?

Going multilingual

Among the first movers in regional content production has been Viu, which partnered with Annapurna Studios to launch two Telugu originals, Pilla and Pelli Gola, and has four more shows lined-up in regional languages. The platform claims to see viewership as high as 40% from regional content. Vishal Maheshwari, country head, Vuclip highlights, “We don’t go after what is common across India, but rather focus on the region.”

With focus shifting beyond metro cities, non-Hindi speaking content will grow exponentially. So if an OTT player needs to address a larger audience, it has to dabble in regional content. “We see a lot of consumption coming from smaller towns; therefore, we are preparing ourselves for the next big wave of regional content. It will also be a big driver of online advertising as it will bring a lot of local advertisers on board,” asserts Uday Sodhi, EVP and head, digital business at SonyLIV.

Identifying markets that are underserved by digital and have strong local content, SonyLIV created shows in Gujarati and Marathi, which will be followed by Bangla and the Southern languages. Similarly, the focus for ALTBalaji is content in Indian languages besides Hindi, which will enable it to grow its viewership. “Our plan is to make 200 hours of original content in these languages,” mentions Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji.

ALTBalaji has just launched its first Bangla original Dhimaner Dinkaal and plans to dub its entire library in regional languages by September. In fact, Sun NXT claims to be the first and only globally launched OTT platform by a network in four Southern languages. A Sun TV spokesperson states, “The population in South India thrives on entertainment, and we are looking at movies and serials to drive consumption for our app.” To cater to the growing needs of regional audiences, Hungama offers content in various languages including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bangla among others. It has initiated a new digital property called Hungama Spotlight to help regional artists promote their music.

Eyeing potential

Gopa Kumar, VP, Isobar India affirms that regional content on OTT will command close to 30% of the overall share in the years to come. “With the urban market saturating, rural India will have huge untapped audiences which these OTT players will look for in the next round of growth,” says Kumar. And that is where Voot seems to be heading. It has announced content in Kannada, Marathi, Bangla and Tamil while Gujarati is a potential market. Going ahead, it plans to have kids’ shows in seven languages and will also add content from the network’s Oriya channel on Voot. Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures says, “We see 20% viewing from non-Hindi content. Digital platforms have only scratched the surface of regional content. We see big opportunities going forward with local user interface coming into play.”

But for Amazon Prime Video, originals in Hindi seems to be the focus. “Bollywood, regional movies and local stand-up comedy are top streamed content on Prime Video. We aim to launch originals in Hindi first and then enter regional markets,” says Nitesh Kripalani, director and country head, Amazon Video India. Amazon Prime Video is just getting started with a line-up of multiple Hindi originals along with latest movies in Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Bangla like Fugey, Tomake Chai and more.

Seeing a high affinity for Hindi content in the South and the same set of audiences watching Malayalam movies and EPL, Hotstar does not approach regional content as a standalone. While it has recently launched Kadhal in Tamil, it will also expand CinePlay into other languages. “We have always been multilingual. The same proposition of Hindi extends to other languages as well when we do same day premieres of shows; we have also had sports commentary in Tamil for a while,” says Ajit Mohan, CEO, Hotstar. “We see a substantial portion of revenues coming in from non-Hindi content.”

Show me the money “We cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ monetising model. Having said that, the most used and abused model is the AVoD model, followed by paid models — SVoD, TVoD — which also includes freemium,” states the Sun TV spokesperson. The company believes that the OTT industry is slowly moving to the paid model as the regional consumer is willing to pay for the content. Voot plans to roll out its subscription model in the next few quarters and Gandhi affirms that regional content will be a part of it.

“By 2020, English will form only 5% of the content consumption on OTT,” highlights Pantvaidya. OTT consumption is shadowing the evolution of the broadcasting business. Three large clusters of linguistic consumption in entertainment — Hindi, Tamil and Telugu — show high propensity. Content that is getting greater traction among the audience includes light-hearted comedy, family dramas and thriller. As Indian language internet consumers surpass English consumers, language-driven content will play a very important role in OTT players’ growth.