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2017: The year OTTs went regional in India

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MUMBAI: Over-the-top (OTT) services were undoubtedly the centre of attraction in 2017. The boom in India?s internet users, mainly aided by the growth of Reliance Jio, ensured that OTT players got the right reception and target audience. Not just  mainstream TV broadcasters but even smaller players exponentially increased their consumer engagement on digital.

Viewership increased as data cost decreased. Consumers were entertained and content makers got a boost to create fresh stories. The online content library was flooded with genres like comedy, thriller, drama, romance, rom-com, suspense, action, humour, reality, etc.

Regional India was the focal point for 2017 and will continue to be in 2018. It also enabled new companies to take a risk in the OTT space. Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi and Gujarati languages have been pampered the most by the creators.

Comedy emerged as the ultimate king in 2017 along with the rise of stand-up comedy. Ideas increased and so did production cost due to competition. Movies jumped over TV to directly go for digital movie premieres. However, this turned out to be a costly affair for OTT players but a good bargain for producers.

Another trend was of creators holding IP rights for content instead of the platform.

There?s no shortage of OTT platforms now, just like the rising number of TV channels. Let?s take a look at how some of the main players performed last year.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime, which recently completed one year in India, hiked its annual subscription fee to Rs 999 from the initial annual subscription of Rs 499 in India. In its first month, Amazon had 5.82 million active users, according to data from app tracker App Annie. That number almost doubled by May to 9.57 million. Total engagement time tripled from 622 million minutes to 1,815 million minutes in the same period. In the month of August, Amazon India had a big fall when its director and country head, Nitesh Kripalani resigned, but then Vijay Subramaniam, who has been in the entertainment industry for 25 years, joined Amazon for the interim as content head in June 2017.

It launched the first original series Inside Edge in collaboration with Excel Media & Entertainment in July 2017, which is now available on Apple TV, Sony PlayStation and Vodafone along with the library of Amazon Prime. The OTT platform is expected to come up with four Indian originals series, i.e., Breathe, The Remix, Comicstaan and Mirzapur in 2018.

Amazon realised that kids content will play an important role. It tied up with Green Gold Animation for Chhota Bheem and its new series Kalari Kids. It also commissioned an animated version of mega-blockbuster Baahubali.

Amazon Prime Video has bet big on Indian movies by releasing them on the platform before they leave theatres. It has signed a digital rights deal for five movies of Bollywood actor Salman Khan before it goes on to television for $10 million. Tubelight was the first and Salman?s next four movies, including Tiger Zinda Hai, will come to Prime first, television next. It has also bagged the streaming rights for the movies like Lipstick Under My Burkha, 2.0, Arjun Reddy and much more along with the streaming rights for the year?s most controversial movie - Padmavat.

Comedy is a big market in India, so Amazon went after it by associating with OML for 14 exclusive stand-up comedy specials and six new series created by stand-up comedians like Anuvab Pal, Biswa Kalyan Rath, Kenny Sebastian, Zakir Khan, Sumukhi Suresh and Varun Thakur. 

Viu

Viu, the OTT video service by PCCW, focused on regional content in the year 2k17 and extended the library with over 3000 hours of compelling original content in Asia. As of October 2017, the global number of downloads was 26 million to which India contributes 9.5 million. Viu rolled out its first ad campaign titled ?Kaaf feels Bro? from 28 August. The company has appointed Times Network?s Shantanu Gangane as the head of marketing of Viu in January. It has also enrolled Eros International Media?s Sameer Gogate as distribution and monetisation head of Vuclip for converting certain costs in revenues through non-ad revenues.

In the beginning of the year, the platform promised to create long and short form regional original shows and started with Telugu as a region with shows such as Cinema Pichollu, Pelli Gola and PillA as well as Gehraiyaan, Spotlight, No. 1 Yaari, Munching with Mahathalli and Social. It also experimented with cricket comedy chat shows like What the Duck and Virender Sehwag?s micro-original Viru ke Funde. Viu also partnered with Nicotex for an adventure journey series I Can You Can. Apart from Indian languages, it has a big original content library of Korean language shows, which is now available for Indian audience. It inked a licensing deal with content house Shemaroo Entertainment to access a handpicked catalogue of Hindi movies.

Viu created a new trend of bilingual content in Telugu and Hindi like Social, which is the first such show. There will be more bilingual shows next year.

As a part of the global strategy, Viu has formed strong partnerships with Samsung, Micromax, Vikram Bhatt?s Loneranger Productions and Annapurna Studios for creating refreshing original localised content that keeps the viewers glued.

Amazon's Fire TV streaming stick, which launched last month in India, has added Vuclip's streaming service Viu as an app on its platform.

Hotstar

As an early entrant in the OTT space, Hotstar has been building a differentiated proposition for its free and premium users comprising local and international TV shows, movies and live sports, helping it cross 175 million downloads and 60 million users in January 2017. Hotstar continues to have the largest number of active users about 69 million in May, according to AppAnnie. Based on the November report, Hotstar topples the chart across all platforms with 15 billion minutes total time spent in the month.

Hotstar has appointed Punitha Arumugam as platform evangelist, with the mandate to showcase the power of the platform to India?s leading brands. 

This year, Hotstar launched an original series in Tamil, in association with celebrated film director, Balaji Mohan, titled As I?m Suffering from Kadhal on 6 June. Apart from Tamil, the series was dubbed in Telugu,with English subtitles available for both languages. Hotstar brings back comedy show Sarabhai vs Sarabhai this year. It streamed Kabaddi World Cup in Ahmedabad in stereoscopic 3D virtual reality. News platforms like Republic TV and ABP News were added to its live feed.

Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in December but before the acquisition could take place, Hotstar inked a multi-year SVOD deal with Disney India to showcase the studio?s hits exclusively on its premium offering in India which includes movies like Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney?s The Jungle Book and Moana, Marvel?s Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, Disney.Pixar?s Finding Dory amongst others.

The highly anticipated premiere of Game of Thrones Season 7 launched on the platform on 17 July, with the first episode available for viewing within minutes of its American telecast.

A new storytelling format, CinePlay, was launched under its originals banner that showcased classics and contemporary stories from the theatre world presented in a cinematic fashion. In April, Hotstar became the first ?Made in India platform? to cross 100 million downloads on Google Play Store and crossed more than 200 million downloads across Play Store, App store and other Android app stores.

Jio TV

The game changer of telecom and digital industry, Jio TV, has recently launched a web version of JioTV app which allows Jio users to access over 500 TV channels. This service was previously exclusive to mobile users via the app. Now with the support for web platform, users will be able to access TV channels through their web browser as well.

Reliance Jio offers a suite of apps which includes JioTV, JioCinema, JioMusic, and more. Jio's suite of apps is free along with the Jio Prime membership and users can enjoy all the content on these apps for free. On the other hand, JioTV, an online version of cable TV, that?s free as of now, has partnerships with almost all national and regional channels, and allows users to stream content up to seven days old. It also has JioCinema, which is a free movie streaming service.

Jio had 42 million users in May and gained momentum in a short while with free data and free content service. Based on the November report by App Annie, Jio TV grabs the second position leaving behind all the OTT players with 8.8 billion minutes total time spent on the platform in the month.

Netflix

Netflix?s focus this year was entirely content, partnerships and technology to build a great experience in India. IT has announced six original productions in the country, namely Sacred Games, Selection Day, Again, Bard of Blood in association with Red Chillies Entertainment, our first kids original series from India, Mighty Little Bheem and Love Per Square Foot, the first mainstream film from India to be exclusively available on Netflix. Over 2017, Netflix tied up with Airtel Digital TV, Videocon and Vodafone to make it easier for Indian consumers to watch Netflix, whether on a set-top box or on a mobile.

Simran Sethi joined Netflix International Originals Production Group in August after leaving the position of SVP of scripted development at Disney?s Freeform to lead the creative Indian content. Netflix executive Nick Nelson moved to Ownzones Media Network as the new head of product innovation.

According to a Netflix survey, Indians are the second-highest public bingers in the world (88 per cent), just behind Mexico (89 per cent).

SonyLiv

SonyLiv played safe this year. It launched the first regional original series, in the Marathi language titled YOLO - You Only Live Once, conceptualised and developed by Indian Magic Eye. Later, it launched the first ever Gujarati rom-com web series titled Kacho Papad Pako Papad in May. SonyLIV and Jossbox have co-produced a web-series called House Proud. In the month of October, the platform came up with the second season of the home-grown originalLoveBytes 2 focussed primarily on youth issues. In association with Beyond Originals, SonyLiv served the last original of 2017 titled Black Coffee. Along with that, to see India fit-n-fine, in the beginning of the year, it launched health and wellness segment LIV Fit.

SonyLiv partnered with Web Talkies, Pocket Aces (for Filter Copy and Gobble) and Fanform Mediaworks for originals content. It bet long on short films from the catalogue of Pocket Films by including 50 award-winning shorts in its bouquet. It joined hands with super chef Sanjeev Kapoor and food YouTubers like Rajshri Foods, Varun Inamdar and Ruchi Bharani to expand its unique food content library. 

SonyLiv has appointed Times Internet?s regional head Maruti Indoria as national sales head for its sports division in February.

To expand the reach, it has signed deals with Videocon d2h, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV to enable customers to access a seamless broad selection of content available on SonyLIV app.

Voot

Viacom18?s digital venture Voot was a complete package of fun without pay. However, they unlike others, it planned a significant regional line-up for the next year. It launched several web series back to back this year which includes Time Out, Yo Ke Hua Bro, Stupid Man Smart Phone and Untag.

Voot has also put the spotlight on the kids section and rolled out a hi-decibel TVC campaign to promote it Voot Kids in Hindi, Kannada and Marathi. It has included various internationally acclaimed characters in its kitty and aims to expand their kids library with 30 plus shows in the year 2018. In association with HDFC, Voot has launched digital talent hunt show for kids in the mid of the year.

In its partnership with Google, Voot has turned its mobile website into a Progressive Web App (PWA) and won the coveted International Broadcasting Convention 2017 (IBC2017) Innovation Award for Content Distribution for its Progressive Web App (PWA) product - Voot Lite, in Amsterdam on 17 September. Next year, it is experimenting with making video available offline on its PWA.

The key strategy of streaming Bigg Boss has awarded the platform with 550 million views till date and 60 minutes average time spent per viewer per day. However, shows like Splitsvilla, which is watched 52 per cent by males, has also added 150 million views.

In 2017, Voot has gained 32 million monthly active users, six million plus daily active users and 50 minutes time spent per viewer per day. Their daily time spent has taken it to the second position after Netflix, according to App Annie November report. Also, it has secured third position with 7.5 billion minutes total time spent on the platform across all OTT platforms, followed by Hotstar and Jio TV, reported by App Annie.

ALTBalaji

ALTBalaji, the ad-free subscription-based platform that launched this year on 16 April with seven originals, today has 12+ original shows available on the platform apart from original regional stand-up comedy in languages like Marathi, Punjabi and Gujarati and content for kids. ALTBalaji recently launched the first Bengali original show Dhimaner Dinkaal and also has a Tamil original Maya Thirrai on the app and the website. It launched a big bunch of Hindi web series including Romil & Jugal, Bewafaa sii Wafaa, Boygiri, Class of 2017, CyberSquad, Pammi Aunty, Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat Season 1, Dev DD, Ragini MMS Returns and BOSE: Dead/Alive.

ALT?s kid?s kitty is full with twelve shows including Get Crafty With Rob, Ding Dong Bell L-O-L, Moe Doe, Happy Lucky ki Katti Batti, Mademoiselle Zazie, Ratz, Nursery Rhymes and many more.

Last year, Nachiket Pantvaidya was promoted to Group COO of Balaji Telefilms. In his current role as the Group COO and CEO ALTBalaji, Nachiket has additional responsibilities at Balaji Telefilms across the television and movie business.

Within six months of its launch, ALTBalaji has been ranked amongst the top three revenue-grossing video streaming apps in the country, as per ?State of Video Streaming Apps in India? report compiled by App Annie Intelligence.

ALT will begin 2018 with its Urdu language original series title Haq Se along with three Hindi originals The Test Case, Karrle Tu Bhi Mohabbat Season 2 and Mangalyaan.

ZEE5, Ozee & Ditto TV

The year was quite low key for Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited?s (Zeel) already existing digital platforms Ozee and DittoTV. In the mid of the year, Zeel announced the launch of its new digital entertainment platform ZEE5. Existing platforms Ozee and DittoTV will be defunct and merge into the new platform Zee5, and the subscribers of both the existing platforms will be auto-upgraded. On Zeel?s 25th anniversary celebration, it launched the new logo of ZEE5.

Yupp TV

YuppTV, this year, added a new category of original series to its bouquet of offerings. It partnered various directors and production houses to provide original video content. Mid-year, it launched its first series, Endukila, written and directed by Laxman Karya. Later in November, YuppTV along with prominent producer Swapna Dutt, Vijayanthi Movies has launched another new web original Mana Mugguri Love story.

YuppTV partners with leading production house, Yash Raj Films, to offer premium Hindi cinema to its subscribers on YuppFlix. Vodafone has also joined hands with YuppTV to expand its Vodafone Play service. It collaborated with cab aggregator Ola for its connected car platform for ridesharing, Ola Play.

YuppTV, recently received funding from Emerald Media, a Pan-Asian platform established by leading global investment firm KKR for investing in the media and entertainment sector, wherein Emerald Media acquired a significant minority stake in the company for US$50mn.  YuppTV had earlier raised its Series A round of funding from Poarch Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama.

Sun NXT

Sun TV Network launched its digital content app compatible with every screen format, ranging from smartphones to living room TV called Sun NXT. The platform has a movie library of over 4000 titles, over 40 channels streaming live and catch-up TV programmes in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. The company claimed that the app had already crossed more than 1.1 million downloads, within four days from its launch.

Hoichoi

Shree Venkatesh Films (SVF), a media and entertainment company of West Bengal, launched the first ever Bengali digital platform Hoichoi in September. In the last few months, the platform has released ten originals - Hello, Cartoon, Holy Faak, Dupur Thakurpo, Byomkesh, Bouma Detective, Paranoia Series, Bhootoorey and Stand Up across multiple genres like drama, detective, adult comedy, rom-com, thriller and non-fiction. The platform is aiming to expand the reach by launching on Amazon Fire TV, Roku TV and Apple TV in January 2018.

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