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OTT players up their focus on Tamil market

Deep-pocket streaming giants are also moving into the regional space in a big way.

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KOLKATA: In India, content is king and over-the-top (OTT) players are increasingly dishing out programming to audiences in their local flavour, moving beyond the Hindi and English speaking segment. As developments in these frontier markets gain momentum, Tamil has emerged as an obvious choice. Some domestic players have already planted a flag in this domain over the last couple of years, and now, the deep-pocket streaming colossuses are also moving in.

Disney+Hotstar, which started focusing on regional content since 2019, recently revealed its first Tamil original content slate, including feature films. A few days before that, Amazon Prime Video announced nine direct-to-digital premieres, and two of these big ticket releases are in Tamil language. Moreover, the service also started streaming its first ever Tamil anthology film Putham Pudhu Kaalai, a collaborative effort by five well-known Tamil directors. And while Netflix hasn’t made inroads in the regional market yet, the global streaming giant announced two Tamil anthologies in October.

“Indian audiences have really diverse tastes and enjoy films and series in several languages. At Netflix, we’re steadily growing our original and licensed film catalogue across multiple Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. We are honoured to showcase the brilliance of Tamil storytelling to our members in India and around the world through two new Tamil originals, Paava Kadhaigal and Navarasa. We will continue to engage with established and emerging creators from different parts of the country and hope to share their stories with the world,” Netflix India international original film director Srishti Behl Arya commented.

Then there are streaming platforms like MX Player, Zee5 that have gone the regional route since the beginning. For instance, MX Player’s Tamil original Queen was a runaway success that won several accolades. The platform’s chief content officer Gautam Talwar said the series was probably the largest bet any OTT platform took for a regional piece of content, but what it proved was that a good story in any language transcends all barriers. According to him, its performance in Telugu and Hindi has been equally phenomenal, along with witnessing a 6X increase in Tamil consumption on the platform post the launch of the show. He noted that the platform has a robust slate for Tamil audiences planned for 2021.

Moreover, the huge Tamil diaspora offers an opportunity to platforms beyond two-three states. “When we started conceptualising content including originals for the Tamil market, we knew that it is a huge opportunity, possibly as big as a Hindi venture. Tamil is also a language which allows you to go international very easily. So, you can end up targeting countries like Sri Lanka or Singapore. The language does not relate only to the Tamil Nadu market,” pointed out Zee5 programming head Aparna Acharekar.

The Tamil market is an interesting segment in terms of content creation too. The audience is a developed film, TV market and has great expectations due to the variety of content they are already exposed to, Acharekar said. MX Player’s Talwar also stated that the Tamil market has historically had a palette for differentiated and bold content, which gives platforms more leeway to experiment with unique narratives and storytelling styles.

“The big players always had the intent to invest in the regional market. Within the regional market, the largest markets are Tamil, Telugu. These are 65-70 per cent of the overall regional market. So, whenever one starts to move to regional, they will definitely choose Tamil, Telugu because it is a large audience base,” Elara Capital VP research analyst (media) Karan Taurani said.

Asked to share his observations on the recent activity by leading OTT players in the regional space, Taurani shared that most of the leading players have already exploited the Hindi and English speaking market. At present, there is a low-competition intensity as no streaming giants have made a mark in the market, other than Zee5, MX Player. In fact, none of the OTT players has aggressively invested yet, he added. This, despite the fact that the Tamil viewers have a huge appetite for content, given their higher than national average time spent on TV, cinema occupancy.

This recent trend of every player trying to expand their footprints – especially Amazon Prime Video, Netflix – may increase the competition significantly, especially for homegrown players. Zee5’s Acharekar seemed less worried as she is of the view that competition helps a market evolve, giving consumers more varieties in the narrative. Along with that, Zee5 possesses last two years’ learning in the episodic format, whereas others have been mainly experimenting with movies till now.

Elara Capital’s Taurani noted that as more players stream into the Tamil market, the production cost will go up as global deep-pocket players invest at a different scale. Hence, domestic players may feel the pinch of higher content production costs. However, he mentioned that all of these platforms have a different target audience.

“There is a huge audience base consuming online content right now, especially since the lockdown. Viewers have not only fast adopted OTT platforms as a medium of choice but are also investing time in watching and experimenting with different kinds of content. I think the more the content produced and served by platforms in regional languages, the more the overall category will grow and that is beneficial to all the platforms. So it’s not about the competition as much as it is about the category growth. Everyone is trying to tell stories in their own unique way and there is a large audience base to cater to for all these stories,” Talwar said.

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