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OTT: The new kid in town for brands to reach their TG

OTT consumption has been on a steep upward curve, especially after COVID-19 crisis

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MUMBAI: OTT consumption has been on a steep upward curve in India for the last three years. Now, after the country has entered a lockdown phase, taking social life out of lives, the media and entertainment industry is suddenly abuzz with a new wave of growth. More people are maintaining social-distance and staying at home, tasting new content and exploring new platforms in this unprecedented crisis. While the staggering change in the M&E landscape is already underway, the sudden lifestyle change is truly a bonanza for OTT platforms. 

According to the latest BARC-Nielsen report, the time spent per user on video streaming apps excluding YouTube grew by 11 per cent in the second week of lockdown. Original series has driven the growth, followed by movies. The statistics only reaffirms that the new-age viewers don’t let go of any opportunity to binge, be it a lockdown, a vacation or even commute time during a busy day. 

Therefore, it’s not surprising that advertisers and agencies, who have been riding the AVoD bus, rolling out campaigns or getting into branded integration deals with the streamers, will take more OTT platforms into consideration for media planning. That is good news for India's media and entertainment companies like Star, Zee, Sony and Viacom18. Their linear television business model has been hit by economic static, especially as production has stopped and advertising revenue will see a bump.  

Despite the huge reach of linear TV, the new-age urban audience have already been considering streaming services as its source of entertainment. IPSOS Predictions 2020 also state that 72 per cent of urban Indians watch more TV from streaming services opposed to cable TV. This shift to OTT is now being accelerated by the stay-at-home direction, especially as theatres have been shut down and leading GECs are unable to churn out fresh content.

Even before this sudden surge in viewership, brands are looking at OTT platforms primarily because of these factors for the last couple of years to reach out to end consumers. They also look for brand safety, integration opportunities, full video views, and indeed, the ability to sharply target a specific set of consumers/cohorts. Home-grown players like ZEE5, Hotstar, VOOT, MX Player and SonyLIV are gradually taking space in the media mix of brands. Moreover, now that live events and big sporting tournaments are getting cancelled, coupled with the absence of new content on TV, advertisers can potentially shift ad spend to digital despite scaling back on the expense. The platforms can increase ad-inventory based on an increase in viewing hours as well as revenue per user. 

ZEE5 has seen a staggering 22 per cent increase in MAU and a 15 per cent increase in DAU compared to last month. The platform has witnessed the upsurge in viewership across all geographies. Because viewers have plenty of free time, the streaming service has seen the highest increase in binge-watching with double-digit growth in long-form content consumption. Moreover, the platform has revealed its content lineup for April with a mix of popular old shows, Korean shows, and digital original films.  

"In the era of social distancing and limiting exposure to the external world, consumers and viewers are turning to forms of digital entertainment and Eros Now is playing its part. We have seen an increase of 200 per cent in paid subscribers on a daily basis and App Annie shows a 78 per cent increase in daily traffic on the platform,” Eros Now CEO Ali Hussein said.

The platforms are experimenting with the pattern of content offering, too. ZEE5 has made some of its premium and new original content available for free, breaking down the paywall, the first player in the industry to do so. Amazon Prime Video has also rolled out a similar strategy making a selection of kids and family content available free to watch for all Amazon customers. Eros Now consumers can access two months of free Eros Now subscription if they subscribed prior to 31 March.

While a social cause is undoubtedly driving such decisions, OTT platforms are going to see a jump in users even after the crisis is over. As more audiences are getting to taste the premium content, many of them will later opt for subscriptions. Other than that, if this lockdown continues for more than a month, a significant chunk of ad spend will also start moving towards OTT from TV as the latter will be bereft of fresh content for a long time. As brand-building activity has suddenly stopped, many brands will look at OTTs to reinitiate the spending given the recent boost in viewership. However, we will see more clarity in the space in due course of time.

According to the FICCI-EY 2020 report, digital advertising grew to Rs 191.5 billion in 2019, 24 per cent higher than in 2018. Ad growth was driven by increased digital media consumption across social media, news, gaming, sports and entertainment, leading to a growth in sellable inventory.

GCPL media services head Subha Sreenivasan Iyer said that the ability to target a specific set of consumers/cohorts is what makes sense for brands while choosing OTT platforms. She also added that there's a wide variety of content, multiple types of readily-available audience, enabling sharper targeting across OTTs.

Loreal media head Neel Pandya pointed out the factors which drive brands to OTT platforms: brand safety, ability to drive full video views, content associations and partnerships that can go beyond advertising and more creative and out-of-the-box thinking.

He added that apart from conventional video buying options, there are opportunities in OTT platforms that can be used to influence consumers across the journey. The key factors include building salience through associations and integrations, building advocacy by creating content and leveraging celebs that also have massive social media following. He added that OTTs help drive consumers to the brand's online shop through innovative formats designed to drive traffic.

GroupM change planning and transformation principal consultant Vishal Jacob noted that while all the brands are depending on TV, they don’t mind expanding their spend to online video. He noted that when it comes to online video, predominantly there are two options –YouTube and OTT.  But, he added, OTT players provide full visibility to the ads and a stronger brand safety environment. According to Jacob, OTT advertising is largely dominated by CPG players like Colgate, Unilever, GSK, Pepsi, etc.

GroupM India partnerships and trading president Ashwin Padmanabhan stated that as OTT platforms have started engaging a huge number of consumers, significant ad spend is moving there. He added that brands like ZEE5, Hotstar, Voot, SonyLIV are investing in technology, leading to higher engagement and brands are looking at capitalising that.

“In essence, content on OTT is quite similar to TV in its audio-visual and storytelling but with a large scope of multi-level targeting by way of multiple cohorts. So categories that choose TV are a natural fit for OTTs as well,” GCPL’s Iyer added.

However, there are a few existing challenges. As Indiantelevision.com spoke to experts, all of them mentioned the need for a single currency to measure ROI. “A single currency is the need of the hour,” as Iyer puts. GroupM’s Jacob also added that a lot of brands are now questioning the effectiveness of OTT platforms as it has been taken largely on words till now. 

“Duplication among OTT and other digital platforms is very high. And currently, there is no major platform where we can do unified targeting reducing this duplication and bring about efficiencies,” Loreal’s Pandya echoed the tone. However, this challenge bothers linear TV, too. 

“Another (challenge) is the cost-effectiveness; it’s important to remember that running longer films/edits may not really be a viable option given the costs,” Iyer added. Pandya said that keeping aside tentpole properties, the platforms still lack the scale that some of the large platforms have.

However, leaving aside the challenges, ad spends on OTT are set to grow. According to experts, advertising on OTT will see an increase between 10 to 15 per cent in 2020 (the numbers may be revised after the COVID-19 impact is taken into account). The future looks more promising as 26 per cent growth is expected by 2025.

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