With an eye on these numbers, American e-commerce giant Amazon has signed multiple output deals with Bollywood and regional studios for its Prime Video service in India. Netflix too has acquired a vast amount of content in various languages since it set up shop in India in 2016.
Viacom18’s OTT platform VOOT (launched in May 2016) currently has content in multiple Indian languages including Kannada, Bangla, and Marathi. In December last year, the platform also announced it will be making web-series in regional languages this calendar. “Over the past year and a half, we’ve noticed that almost 25 per cent of our consumption happens in the regional space (example Big Boss). So, we’re confident there is appetite for VOOT Originals in the regional markets. And since we’re entering the Tamil market in TV, we thought it would be a good idea to compliment that with content on VOOT in the language as well,” said Gaurav Gandhi, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures.
The opportunity in regional content has been harnessed by local platforms too. Players such as Hoichoi are dedicated to the language consumer, Bengali in this case but there are similar ones in other languages too. Hoi Choi went live in 2017 and the goal it says is not only to reach Bangla speaking audiences in India, but expand beyond Indian borders and reach out to the diaspora as well.
Sources: Indian languages: Defining India’s Internet, a report by KPMG and Google (April 2017) and Reimagining India’s M&E sector, a report by FICCI and EY (March 2018)
Vishnu Kant Mohta, co-founder and director, Hoichoi says, “There are 250+ million Bengalis residing worldwide who do not have access to Bengali movies, be it new or old. With the advent of smartphones and digital platforms, the thirst for web content has also increased in the past decade.” He says that according to Times Internet, regional languages have surpassed English with a 66 per cent share in overall content consumption and that is the reason behind the big thrust into the country’s linguistic minefield. Interestingly these platforms are all built on a subscription-led model.
Will the growing aggression among large global platforms in the regional space obliterate the local players? Not many are willing to bet on a yes or a no. Change is a given but in all probability, the sector will see a spate of alliances and sharing agreements in 2018 they say. Netflix seems to hint at the same. “We are focused on primarily on content, partnerships and technology, to drive a great Netflix experience in the market. Key to our content strategy is becoming a leading producer and distributor of high-quality Indian content. Currently, members can watch local content in several languages on Netflix, including Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil and Punjabi, and we will continue expand this regional offering,” says Jessica Lee.
While players like Netflix, Amazon are focused on building strong local libraries, Indian entertainment giants like Viacom18 and Zee are leveraging the extensive television content libraries in multiple languages to promote their online video streaming platforms.
The interest of OTT players in regional content libraries is also a result of the growing popularity of language films at the box office. Over the past few years, regional cinema has found success at the box office, along with critical acclaim. Whether it was the magnum opus Baahubali franchise, or the small budget love story Sairat, audiences flocked the theatres and set the cash registers ringing. Experts see the relationship between regional content creator and streaming platforms as symbiotic.
“Regional films are saddled with some basic issues of revenue streams and OTT is a good option to monetise the IP. For players like Netflix and others, it goes a long way in strengthening a diverse library not only for India, but for international audiences too,” says one expert.