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OTT & streamers 2019: Full steam ahead!

The year was big for both domestic and international players.

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MUMBAI: If 2018 was big for the over-the-top (OTT) platforms, 2019 was even bigger for the ecosystem. Existing platforms pumped in in even more money into content creation, distribution and customer acquisition even as new players made a grand entry. While in the previous year, the focus was just on content creation, 2019 was about course correction, forging partnerships, striking distribution deals, entering new segments, innovating and getting to know the consumer better. Not just for the homegrown players but for the big international ones as well.

2019 was the year when indiantelevision.com evolved its Vidnet OTT confab into one which offered conferences, training and masterclasses from some of the creators of successful originals.

New kids on the block:

Maybe a little late in the day, but a few platforms started their journey this year and created a buzz in the market. In February 2019, Times Internet launched a new avatar of its one of the most ambitious bets, MX Player. To grab a bigger slice of the ambitious video streaming market, the OTT platform commenced its play with five MX Original Series. Shemaroo Entertainment Ltd, one of the legacy players, which owns a rich content library, forayed into the space around the same time. However, Shemaroo banked on its existing content for ShemarooMe rather than burning cash for original content. But while MX Player went totally advertising-led, ShemarooMe took the freemium route.  

Later in the second half of the calendar year, IN10 Media, a diversified vertical of infotainment channel Epic TV launched a new subscription-based documentary streaming platform DocuBay. The last quarter witnessed another major announcement – the launch of VOOT Kids from the house of Viacom18 which has already established a significant digital play with VOOT.  Unlike its main OTT platform, Viacom18 is relying on subscription for the kids’ platform right from the get-go. 

Moreover, the year was equally eventful in the global OTT market as well. Tech giant Apple forayed deeper into streaming with the launch of its subscription-based video streaming service Apple TV+ in November. A few days later, Walt Disney launched its much-awaited streaming service Disney+ at a very reasonable sticker price. While the former made its streaming service available in India at Rs 99 per month, what the Star Disney combine will do with Disney+ in India has to still to be worked out, considering the huge popularity of Hotstar.

More investment in original content:

Along with new OTT platforms entering the market, the existing platforms also increased their investments in original content.  ZEE5 from Zee Entertainment Enterprises spent the year increasing its focus on large-scale originals, franchises, digital original films and regional language shows even as it has already developed a robust original content library across languages.

Among  the shows that struck a chord with viewers include: Rangbaaz, which was launched late 2018 soared in 2019. The Kunal Khemu-starring BP Singh-produced Abhay too made its mark after being launched in early 2019. Kaafir – an original from Siddharth Malhotra’s Alchemy Films – too was much talked about. Zeel took its successful TV show Jamai Raaja to Zee5 in the shape of Jamai 2.0 during the year.

After banking on catch-up and sports content for a long time,  Star India’s Hotstar also decided to invest in premium original content. Reportedly, Hotstar jumped onto the bandwagon with a Rs 120 crore investment plan. The primary reason to launch originals is to convert users into paid subscribers in the face of increasing competition. Hitherto, adapting successful foreign shows by infusing local flavours had been an important aspect of Hotstar’s strategy but it is certain that the platform is not going to limit itself to adaptations.

Another player with deep pockets, Amazon Prime Video, also scaled up its local content offering along with a stellar roster of movies. With highly acclaimed originals like Made in Heaven, The Family Man, the OTT platform has already attracted enough user attention. Moreover, the second seasons of earlier hits are also in pipeline.

Amazon Prime Video’s international rival has gradually evolved its investment in India – Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in his latest visit revealed that it is committing Rs 3000 crore in this year and next for Indian content.

Other homegrown players like VOOT, SonyLIV also realigning their focus on original content as they don’t have significant play in the segment.

Innovation with pricing:

The streamers are not only experimenting with content to make build consumer love, but they are also jiggling around with pricing  in order to find the sweet spot which appeals to consumers. Rather than directly slashing prices, the streaming platforms have opted for sachet pricing.

All the major players - Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, ZEE5, SonyLIV followed this strategy.

Hotstar launched a Hotstar VIP pack at Rs 365 a year, much lower than its premium service which is priced at Rs 999 per year. SonyLIV has already tested a weekly subscription package priced at Rs 29 only. While ZEE5 has  launched special packages in languages including Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, it is looking at a mobile-only plan as well.

Even ALTBalaji is also likely to consider having sachet pricing in the next two years.

Most importantly, Netflix in an industry-first move launched a mobile-only pack in India priced at Rs 199. Maybe the myth that Indian consumers are shy to pay for content has been broken but the players have also realised Indian consumers are value-conscious.

Experimenting with new partnerships:

At the same time when the platforms were trying to differentiate in the crowded space, they also forged interesting partnerships. The new entrant MX Player stitched content tie-ups with Sony Liv, Arré and Hoichoi. Hotstar did a deal with Hooq to make its Hollywood offering stronger. But the most interesting one was the betrothal announcement between ZEE5 and Alt Balaji. It went way beyond content syndication – more towards content sharing, an arrangement that includes co-creation of a number of premium originals which will be available to subscribers of both the platforms.

Although telco-partnerships have proved to be helpful for OTT platforms, the profitability of platform-to-platform alliances in the long-run yet remains to be tested.

Key people movements:

Along with changes in business plans, content strategy, the OTT platforms reshuffled their teams in 2019 as well. Netflix continued expanding its Indian team with TV and streaming veterans being hired locally,  including the appointment of Voot content head Monika Shergill, and the BBC’s Myleeta Aga. VOOT on its part recruited its new COO Gourav Rakshit from Shaadi.com keeping its subscription business in mind. After Uday Sodhi quit, SPNI handed the reins of SonyLiv to television vet Danish Khan. Ekta Kapoor-led ALTBalaji has seen high profile exits as CEO Sunil Lulla and COO Sunil Nair quit the organisation this year.

2019 was exciting for the OTT platforms undoubtedly. The cloud of content regulation over the platforms also seems to be clear as the government has reportedly agreed to allow the streamers to self regulate.

But a few of the old issues like lack of OTT measurement systems, lower broadband penetration, content piracy are still proving bothersome.

In addition to that, the global and Indian economic crises, a hike in telecom and data tariffs may prove a dampener for the industry, if not in the long-term, at least for the first half of the next calendar year.

So the challenges will continue to dog the streamers as they plod on to conquer a nation’s TV junkies.

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