From Netflix to Amazon Prime, OTT platforms toss up the language card

Amazon Prime Video has recently launched the second season of Comicstaan in Hindi and a Tamil version of the show
As the battle for subscriptions gathers pace among streaming platforms in India, language is the access-key that everyone is reaching for. Much like what their peers in television did a few years ago, the OTT (over-the-top) platforms are adopting a mix of strategies—from commissioning original shows and films to repurposing old programmes from TV and dubbing—to strengthen their grip in the entertainment market.  

What is surprising say media experts is the speed with which the streaming platforms have boarded the language train. It has taken one fourth of the time it took TV to recognize the potential of regional content, they say.

At Amazon Prime Video, it started with a steadily bulging regional film and television library and now, it has original shows and programming formats in many languages. It recently launched Comicstaan, originally created in Hindi with an all-India cast of stand-up artists, in Tamil. Comicstaan is a reality show created for and by the platform in India and will be adapted in different languages, starting with Tamil, the company announced at the time of the launch.

Zee5 India, the platform from the Zee stable launched just over a year ago has said it will launch 24 Tamil, and Telugu originals each in the current fiscal, and another 12 originals each in Bengali and Marathi, including shows and films. It has launched more than 40 originals in various Indian languages including Hindi so far.

Aparna Acharekar, programming head, Zee5 says, “We have a wealth of insight to draw from the television business. We are present in so many regional markets through the TV medium. This meant that regional language content was a focus area for Zee5 from the day of its launch. What was important for us was to service these markets. This meant we had to offer catch-up TV and something more. So regional language originals were available on the platform from the start.”

A similar story is playing out at Viacom18’s OTT platform VOOT. The platform currently houses close to 30,000 hours of regional content and says it has seen consumption of this content grow 5x year on year. In comparison, Hindi language content consumption is growing at 3x for VOOT. Regional content contributed to 10-12 per cent of total consumption on the platform a year back, and currently, it contributes to 20 per cent of the total consumption on VOOT.

VOOT has not yet launched an original show or film in any of the regional languages, but plans to do so soon. Akash Banerji, business head, VOOT explains, “With a strong following on our TV shows, we created a library of clips which are digital exclusives of content around our TV content. Currently, our VOOT library has more than 22,000 clips of content around content (CAC) in regional languages. What this has done is help drive the depth in consumption on the platform. It is for this reason that we have not limited content to only entertainment and introduced news as well.”

He adds that now, the platform will introduce original content in regional languages and more interactivity on the app. This includes play along feature for KBC Kannada, and inviting viewer suggestions for tasks to be given to contestants on Bigg Boss Marathi.

Banerji reveals that while consumption trends tell the programming and content teams what is working and what viewers want to watch, they also persuade advertisers to explore regional language shows as advertising avenues. “The regional slate has seen a 4x increase in ad-sales for non-fiction content on VOOT,” he reveals.

Netflix India recently announced a low-priced subscription plan for India, meant only for mobile phones. This is the first time ever that the American platform has cut prices so close to the bone in any country. The aim is to increase accessibility, it has said. 

While price will get them in through the door, it is only by going multi-lingual that it can harness the potential of regional audiences. Netflix knows that and in its three-and-a-half years in India, has shopped for many a regional film and TV show. Perhaps among its biggest acquisitions is SS Rajamouli’s two part magnum opus Baahubali which it reputedly shelled out Rs 25 crore for. It also plans to announce regional original shows. Without a strong set of language content in its arsenal, it knows its reach is limited.

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