OTT platforms to help you tide over the monotony of the Covid-19 lockdown

ZEE5 has diverse themes in its original content. 'Ghoomketu' (left) is a laugh riot featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anurag Kashyap, while 'Ateet' is a psycho horror film. Picture Courtesy: ZEE5
When web series Mentalhood starring Karishma Kapoor was announced on ALTBalaji, the promos seemed anything but mainstream masala type. Offbeat, out-of-the-box, contemporary is what characterised the web series. The title, an interesting word play on ‘motherhood’ somewhat gave it away—mothers manoeuvring their way through unreasonable expectations and eccentricities to raise their children. 

 
Speaking to Business Standard, actor Karishma Kapoor said, “What prompted me to act after such a long time was the script which was unusual, different and challenging. It touched upon a topic which was mature, relevant to the times—a reason why people identified with it. And because it’s a season-wise episode, the audience gets to watch more and we, as actors, get a voice to express a lot more.” 

Kapoor shares how she has been receiving messages from people, especially during the lockdown on how the show made them feel better, how they could identify with the emotions a parent goes through in current times.

This is what characterises the content on most OTT platforms. “Real, Relevant and Resonant,” are the three pillars on which our content rests, says Rahul Maroli, Sr Vice President at ZEE5. That is possibly the reason why OTT has been clocking an year-on-year growth of 25 per cent, even before corona. “With the lockdown, there has been a 2x increase in the number of people subscribing to our content,” says Maroli.

Eros Now has witnessed a 78 per cent surge in engagement during the lockdown and metrics were compiled based on subscriptions, registered/active users, time spent number by people, before and after March 24, shares Ali Hussein, CEO of Eros Now. He talks about how content consumption has drastically changed in the country during the past 20 years owing to evolution of technology. 

Hussain cites the example of music evolving from tapes, CDs, MP3 and finally now streaming it from the internet. “OTT is more of a phenomenon. The discovery or depth of content is a lot more possible in an OTT framework rather than a linear set up because in the latter, you end up watching only what is being served to you. It's a different viewing experience watching on linear TV and on-demand feed, and consumers today choose what they want to watch and discover along the way.”

As India adjusts to self-isolation, millions of people who are now at home 24x7 are turning to OTT content for entertainment. The top ten trending platforms are Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5. SonyLiv, Hoichoi, AltBalaji, Viu, Eros Now, according to data compiled by Verizon Media. 

A study by ‘#LifeSlicesByMahindraLifespaces’ indicates that about 47 per cent of respondents own a media streaming device - either a Google Chromecast or an Amazon Fire Stick. OTT platforms like Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have seen an overall 82.63 per cent increase in time spent by people with Netflix alone seeing a staggering 110 per cent rise, Amazon Prime Videos, 98.92 per cent rise on their mobiles. These were the findings of a Bobble AI study, which released a report to better understand consumption pattern and user behaviour on smartphones ever since the nation-wide lockdown has been imposed. 

The OTT story has been sparked by smart phone penetration, say experts. People are turning to their mobile phones for entertainment, with handset numbers reaching 500 million, touching every second person in the country, as against television users at 200 million.

Aggressive pricing 

Many of these OTT platforms come with aggressive pricing strategies, hitting a sweet spot that is affordable to the mass market. So you have the likes of ALTBalaji, at Rs 34 per month and Rs 300 per year or Eros Now, which comes for Rs 399 per year and Rs 49 per month or Voot, SonyLiv, Viu and ZEE5 at Rs 99 per month.

Clever pricing is important in a price-sensitive country like ours, especially if you want to ramp up the numbers. Says Jayshree Sundar, an advertising professional and professor of marketing: “We undertook a case study on how Netflix was going nowhere with its expensive monthly subscription of Rs 500-700, until they launched their mobile strategy at Rs 199 for mobile subscription.” However, with mobile, the nature of content has become far more intimate, one-on-one as against the earlier trend of watching television with family. Says Sundar: “With OTT, there is a new genre of edgy and sexy programming with explicit scenes, expletives and intimacy. The Indian viewer, who was used to so much censorship, is suddenly getting everything out there, including stuff normally not allowed on television.

A quarantine edition of 'Metro Park' (left) and 'A Viral Wedding', where bride, groom and priest will be on video call for a virtual ‘shaadi’ - all shot during lockdown, at home. Picture courtesy: Eros Now

Unique positioning 

Each of these OTT platforms has a distinct identity of its own. While Netflix is niche and premium, Eros Now is ‘filmy’, with 70 per cent of the content being movies. Hotstar is known for its live events, and ZEE5 is a mass-market product.

Says Sundar: “The one to watch out for is ALTBalaji, which has 150 web series under production and is ready to swamp the market, while Voot comes with Big Boss. Some of these are strong on regional content, such as MX Player, which is popular with the Telugu and Tamil audience, while Hoichoi is a big hit with the Bengali audience. But the one which will surprise everyone is ZEE5 as it has the entire Hindi belt of UP, Bihar and North India, apart from so many regional channels.”

Tier-2 and 3 cities are important markets for OTT platforms. “We are focussing on every possible large language such as Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Bhojpuri,” says ZEE5’s Rahul Maroli. “We have mass premium content meant for mass premium audience and have content streaming in a s many as 12 languages, but our goal is now to go deeper into tier-3 and 4 cities.”

While the big subscription numbers come from smaller cities, the big bucks come from the metros. Eros Now, which was so far dominated by tier-2 and 3, has just forayed into English content with Eros Now Prime, a premium English content platform. Says Hussein: “The way internet penetration and the whole ecosystem of infrastructure is spread, we get a lot of internet subscribers from the English-speaking metro markets of Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkatta etc. This is a market nobody can ignore.” 

Eros Now has signed a multi-year content deal with NBCUniversal and will be announcing many more in June with multiple studios. "Content has no boundaries," says Hussein. “With the use of technology, dynamic subtitles and dubbing, a good story can be conveyed across the country.”

Content for every mood 

A segment called Before TV is popular. Says Maroli, “From 9-10 pm in the average home, too many people end up competing for the television. So we have a segment called Before TV where, say, a Kumkum Bhagya that is aired at 9pm at Zee TV will come earlier at 6pm, as it is quite possible that people will want to watch it earlier or later at home.”

Most of these platforms boast of original content of movies and web series. Diversity of content is often touted as a USP at OTT - horror, comedy, family drama to social, political, psychological thrillers, you name it and there is a web series on every theme and genre. Bestselling content across OTT varies from the likes of thriller series Tashkent files, or topics on progressive women such as Mission over Mars. Says Thomas Cherian, Director-Communications, Netflix India: “Netflix has a lot of variety and diversity in its content so it’s hard to say what’s common. For example, yesterday’s top-ten list has everything from Money Heist (La Casa de Papel), which is a Spanish series, to Hindi licensed movies, original an English film like Extraction while Dark is in German.” 

 

And now, film releases too 

With Shoojit Sircar announcing the direct digital release of Gulabo Sitabo, many filmmakers are contemplating a digital release owing to theatres being shut with the global Covid-19 pandemic. This has not gone down well with multiplex owners, such as INOX theatres, which have expressed “extreme displeasure and disappointment” at the decision of production houses to take their films directly to an OTT platform, skipping a theatrical release.

Says producer Tajdar Amrohi, producer and director and son of film maker Kamal Amrohi, “OTT platform is a good take. I would personally encourage it provided returns on investments are fair. How long can one wait? The future is digital and even the cost of publicity will decrease.”

OTT platforms are of the view that technology exists today for delivery of movie experiences at home. Be it the bandwidth, connectivity, the Dolby apps available on devices, the cinema experience can be created on the smart tv and mobile phone.

There are movies that need the big screen theatrical experience which will be fit for the multiplex only but there will be another segment of story driven movies which will be perfect fit for OTT such as Gulabo Sitabo, Shakuntala Devi, says Jayshree Sundar.

The magic of movies will never go. According to actor Karishma Kapoor, “nothing can compare with the cinematic experience. The experience of going to watch a movie on 70 mm big screen, to see a star in theatre, buy your popcorn, stand up for the national anthem – that can never be the same as OTT. Yes we can sit in the comfort of our home in our bed or sofa- at the same time the cinematic experience cannot be replicated.”


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