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Regional OTT content more than just catch-up TV

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MUMBAI: The rise of digital content platforms has forever changed television viewing in India. The revolution in the over-the-top content (OTT) and video-on-demand (VOD) industry in the country is reminiscent of the growth of satellite television during the 1990s. Due to the rollout of 4G services and exponential growth in the smart phones, the OTT industry expanded widely in 2017 in India.

 In the past two years, the competitive landscape has evolved quickly with the entry of 25 to 30 OTT service providers in India. There were nearly 10 investments in OTT and OTT technology companies during 2016 and competition is heating up in terms of who is acquiring the exclusive rights of TV shows as well as in terms of launching originals. Millions of rupees are being invested in content production and acquisition by all major players. According to the Accenture 2017 Digital Consumer Survey, the surge in VOD in India is pegged at 78 per cent, which is growth in the number of consumers of VOD services in India.

When a brand addresses a regional demographic in its language, it builds an emotional connect with it. Likewise, when video content players such as OTTs serve content in vernacular mediums, people tend to associate better with them. And 2017 has seen almost every player dive into the regional language pond.

The entertainment sector has woken up to the huge potential of the regional OTT language content with platforms like ViuClip, YuppTV, Amazon, ALTBalaji, SonyLIV, Voot, Hotstar, and Netflix providing exclusive regional content.

In an interaction with Indiantelevision.com’s Kirti Chauhan, Viu country head (India) Vishal Maheshwari, ALTBalaji CMO Manav Sethi, Voot COO Gaurav Gandhi, Amazon Prime Video content director India Vijay Subramaniam, SonyLIV EVP and head digital Business Uday Sodhi, YuppTV CEO Uday Reddy, and Amagi Media Labs co-founder Baskar Subramanian spoke about the current scenario of regional content language on various digital platforms. The inputs by media experts of the industry from Stratagem Media MD Sundeep Nagpal and Lodestar Media GM Deepak Netram overviewed the role and the potential of regional content in the OTT space.

Among the trends that emerged, include: the current OTT ecosystem is geared towards serving the youth. Said Netram, “Maximum users are in the age group of 18 to 34 years spending 15 minutes plus on average on consuming content via apps and more than 55 minutes overall in a day.”

Defining regional content

“Content available in languages catering beyond the Hindi and English-speaking masses in India would be categorised as regional content. The focus of the content is shifting from what is popular across India to what is popular in a select region. At Viu, we are creating relevant and contemporary entertainment to cater to these masses,” commented Maheshwari.

Gandhi said that besides Hindi, the VOD’s focus on regional languages like Marathi, Kannada, Bangla, Gujarati, and Tamil.

Amazon Prime’s Subramaniam thinks that their content mix is significantly local. “We have a line up of multiple new Hindi originals coming up that would also be dubbed in multiple languages. We already offer the latest movies in Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Bengali,” he said. In Bengali, we have tied up with Shree Venkatesh Films, in Tamil, we have partnerships with Dream Warrior Pictures, V Creations and Studio Green; in Telugu, we have tied up with Lakshmi Narasimha Productions, DVV Entertainments, and in Marathi we have tied up with Everest.”

Amazon Prime Video availed some of the blockbusters of 2017 like Arjun Reddy, VIP2, Nene Raju Nene Mantri, Dhananjoy, and Bhikari soon after their theatrical release.

The new player in town, ALTBalaji, has added another angle. “Regional content cannot be defined under state boundaries. The democratisation of labour and movement in jobs have showed that language travels across the region from where it originates. So, it will be wrong to look at regional content from location stand point, it has to be looked at from language stand point,” said Sethi.

The early entrant, YuppTV, shared plans to have Telugu content. For now, it is launching content in Tamil and, going forward, it will feature content in Malayalam, Marathi, and Bengali, too.

SonyLIV’s Uday Sodhi is gung-ho about regional content. “Besides Hindi, we have a strong catalogue of Bengali content. We are now aggressively looking at adding other languages on our platform as we have created original shows in Marathi and Gujarati. We are looking for acquiring content in south Indian languages to make our regional language portfolio strong,” he said.

According to Netram, 25 to 30 per cent of the audience visiting the OTT platforms consume regional content and it is expected to reach around 50% by 2018. Maharashtra and the South are the two dominant markets in India at the moment.

Beyond catch-up TV

While discussing the restrictions of regional content, Amagi’s Baskar Subramanian said, “I feel that regional OTT is largely driven by television content like what they call catch-up TV.”

Sodhi, however, believes that catch-up TV is the starting point for consumers because they are familiar with it. SonyLIV is witnessing significant consumption of films, short films and original shows on the platform.

Sethi offers a different perspective. “Not many investments are being made in creating shows or narratives or stories that have the propensity to be consumed by 10 to 20 million people outside TV. But now ALT is investing a lot in creating shows outside TV.”

Added Maheshwari, “Video on demand around the country has moved beyond catch up TV. While there is a sizable amount of regular television content consumption on these platforms, the growing effort to create locally relevant originals is establishing the demand for experimental and fresh content created for the digital-first audience.”

YuppTV, which already has a big basket of TV content to watch on-demand, now has a small basket of originals for binge watching. Reddy said that they have created their own linear TV playout so people can watch it like a typical TV format as well. “We have created epic engagement of audience with our own and syndicated content. Our goal is to have 20 per cent of our own YuppTV content. We will be announcing four more shows soon.”

Besides making Viacom18’s TV shows available as catch-up TV, Voot is providing exclusive content around the TV shows. Gandhi said that they are now starting to create original series for Voot in regional languages.

Working with language experts

Viu works with creative minds from the particular region they are catering to. This builds a content base for them that the millennial audience can resonate with. Said Maheshwari, “We are consistently working with creative talent that has the knowledge and expertise to create content in specific regional languages. We have an in-house team of researchers who dive deep into market and consumer insights. We work with studios big and small, independent producers as well as creative folks.”

Reddy said that they have content team experts who had been in the industry and going forth, they will be hiring more experts for other regional languages.

Gandhi added, “We work with our TV networks in each of the regional markets to create and curate the content in the respective language. We also have a regional content team at Voot, which focuses on shows for their respective language.”

SonyLiv, meanwhile, has a team that looks at the content and understands the content beyond languages.

Even Amazon’s Subramaniam said that the platform has dedicated teams that assess content demand amongst customers in each region based on various factors.  “A combination of these factors decides our content strategy.”

Sethi too agreed on having a language expert on board, giving the example of the soon-to-be released Bose and Dhimaner Dinkal series, which have a Bengali expert. “Our choice of the production house is also guided by the person’s understanding of the nuances of that particular region’s language, traditions, culture, and many more things.”

“The benefit of taking OTT players to regional sectors is that they give them a platform to talk to the local audiences in their language, helping advertisers to engage more efficiently,” pointed out Netram. Nagpal, however, thinks that the benefits for OTT players is just to capture eyeballs from a different screen and different audiences, while they are young, with fresh content and win them over from TV.

Market research

According to Sethi, both primary as well as secondary research needs to be done before undertaking a new language sector. “Our secondary research is all about the shows, which have come live, sources of data that have guidance, whether the show worked in particular region, how did it work, what was the monetisation opportunity in that show and many more. From the stand point of primary research, it is largely based on picking up the focus group. While doing our Bengali show research, we spoke to a group of Bengali people to identify the kinds of stories and drama they would like to consume. In our secondary research, we looked at the data consumed on Facebook and Youtube along with the growth in consumption.”

Baskar Subramanian believes that there are two things to consider for regional content creation. First is the economics of production and second is the cultural nuisances of those regions that can be captured exclusive to the TV content.

Maheshwari said, “Our strategy is deeply anchored in technology and consumer insights. Research affirms that regional content on OTT will command close to 30 per cent of the overall share in the years to come. Indian language internet users will drive the next phase of internet adoption in India. This new generation of users will come on board from tier 2 and tier 3 cities. With this potential increase in consumer base, there will be immense demand for intriguing regional content.”

Sodhi said that they have we looked at the original content in language while doing Marathi and Gujarati shows. He said, “We found that both are underserved markets and, besides the television content, there is very little digital only content is available but a lot of our consumers come from these regions, which made it a perfect combination to serve content in these languages.”

“At Amazon, we keep customers as our prime focus. The best way we customise and select our content is by giving our consumers what they want. We invest a lot of time and effort in market research to understand what customers want in order to deliver it to them,” said Subramaniam.

Voot is currently open only to those languages on that have a strong TV network content. Based on internet penetration, digital video penetration, content availability, and preference of the native language over Hindi, Voot is looking at opening other markets, too.

Said Nagpal, “Given the rapid penetration of mobile and growth rates of internet services in the hinterland, as well as the reducing tariff rates of bandwidth and downloads, the biggest challenge can well be to produce compelling content.”

Content creation and marketing strategies

For promotion, Voot uses its TV networks and other digital media assets as well. ALTBalaji, however,  focusses largely on digital for marketing. “On digital, it becomes easier for us to target in terms of reach and frequency,” added Sethi.

At Viu, the content ecosystem is driven by consumer demand and their anticipated entertainment needs. This includes a mix of licensed and originally created content. The platform is focussed on locally relevant content in every market and does not believe that one size fits all. “We knew Korean dramas did well in Malaysia and Indonesia, and decided to put the content on our Indian app as well. Since then, we have witnessed a lot of consumption by a small group of people,” said Maheshwari

Sodhi’s team is capable of targetting the right content to the right user with the help of analytics, which tells them which audience is coming from which spoken language region. And, similarly, based on the content engagement matrix of YuppTV, Reddy and the team designs the content strategies. YuppTV has its own platform intelligence to build the content strategy. For marketing, they use social media platforms.

 

Revenue potential

As the audiences grow across regional language content, monetisation will grow as well. “While this was small so far, it is beginning to become interesting,” Gandhi believes. “It is an early evolving market. We are still at early stage when revenue started coming in. However, we are confident that over the next 12-18 months, we will see significant numbers in revenues,” said Sodhi.

“With urban markets saturating with content, the regional content demand will be the next thing that OTT platforms are likely to tap into. This will command close to 30 percent share in overall revenue,” Maheshwari added.

“After Hindi, regional has acquired the maximum share in terms of viewership and monetization ability. From monetization and ROI stand point, largely Tamil language has the highest potential because it has far invite, they are higher on payment curve, they are affluent, they are educated and the mobile uptake is more,” said Sethi.

While sharing the current regional content on their platforms Sethi said, “15 per cent of our total number of hours of shows will come from regional content. We are investing a lot in regional talent across genres because they have tremendous appeal in terms of following. However, SonyLIV currently have regional content of around 10 per cent, besides Hindi and English, said Sodhi.

Nagpal commented that OTT content can be made available for advertising almost immediately, but it would take about 2 years to reach a critical mass for advertisers to recognize its value. But the options to market can be many more than just airtime. Wherein, Netram thinks that this is an active aspect, monetization has already started and is expected to further ramp up looking at the consumption pattern. He said, “OTT Platforms like Ozee are centered on the regional content and are monetizing it well.”

Regional programming

Maheshwari said that there is an immense scope for original content in regional language. “For Viu, we are focused on creating and providing a mix of regional content beginning with Hindi and Telugu. Currently, we are focusing on Telugu as a region with shows such as Cinema Pichollu, Pelli Gola and PillA. We aim to provide undubbed shows. Instead, we are creating bilingual content in Telugu and Hindi that has universal appeal.”

Gandhi agreed and said, “We are already working on digital original series across 3 regional languages already.”

Subramaniam believes that homegrown and original content are significant drivers of viewership and box office collections already. Local stories help them to remain relevant, relatable and eventually widen audience reach.

Sethi, Reddy and Sodhi accepted that the market has tremendous scope. And the regional content growth will only come from original shows made in various regional languages.

Where Nagpal thinks that Regional advertisers are still not enthusiast about digital regional content, Netram believes they are.

Nagpal said, “Not yet, but this will not take time, once the content starts flowing out. There are enough regional success stories to go by. However, “Netram said, “Yes the OTT Platforms are very kicked about the regional content and the same is shown by the way it’s been consumed, special web series in the regional language have also been created.”

Growth potential

Gandhi said “Our biggest regional language on Voot is Kannada. We are also seeing good growth in Marathi. We are extremely bullish on our Tamil language play as well, especially as we launch our TV network in that market soon.”

Sethi believes that Tamil, Bengali, Kannada and Telugu languages has the biggest scope for growth.

Sodhi said that they have seen significant adoption for South Indian languages which includes Tamil, Telugu, Kannada & Malayalam and then Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali and Punjabi by audience.

Because YuppTV have started a little early in Telugu, the platform has higher audience numbers in it. Reddy firmly believes that Telugu, Hindi and Tamil, other regional languages like Malayalam, Marathi and Bengali have a big scope for growth.

Maheshwari said, “We have launched Telugu and Hindi, we are contemplating other language content to get added to our regional repertoire.”

Netram said, “Identify content that is working well on TV, get the same content in the regional language, for example if a big reality show on TV gets the highest viewership. South being the second highest region to consume regional content, the same could is also been leveraged on OTT.” However, Nagpal only suggests to just watch the growth of technology.

While talking about the investment in regional content language, Maheshwari said, “Content investment is required to seed adoption. This investment partly goes towards licensing content and partly towards producing originals. In a market like India where there are many OTT players, differentiation is the key. When we do originals, we let the script, production quality required for the script to reach its full potential and audience reach and monetization expectations define the budget for a show. Sometimes, it is well below TV production scale and sometimes it is much bigger.”

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