How India is ‘Cutting the Cord’ to drive an OTT revolution
With streaming TV, the fight for the remote is laid to rest, writes Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder and CEO, Amagi UnSplash
Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder and CEO, Amagi writes about India's OTT revolution

How India is ‘Cutting the Cord’ to drive an OTT revolution

Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder and CEO, Amagi writes about India's OTT revolution
  • The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has changed our lives, perhaps forever. It has brought about many behavioural changes among consumers. While some were temporary, there are many that will perhaps become permanent.
  • People discovered the many conveniences of OTT platforms during the last 2 years and the sector is only expected to grow from here.
  • Baskar Subramanian, Co-founder and CEO, Amagi writes why OTT is getting consumer love and why the streaming media is here to stay.
The pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns completely transformed our entertainment experience. From 'Let's go for a good movie', we moved to 'What should we watch on Netflix?'. Movie premiers and live sporting events like IPL and others have moved to OTT. For example, Netflix released the Kangana Ranaut starrer Thalaivi and Zee5 released Bob Biswas starring Amitabh Bachchan exclusively on OTT platforms. Homegrown web series like The Family Man, Sacred Games, Aarya, Special Ops, Aashram, Mirzapur and more undoubtedly elevated the popularity of OTT
platforms among the tech-savvy millennials and Gen Z population who had embraced OTT over Cable TV or DTH subscriptions even before the onset of the pandemic.

Post the pandemic, however, the trend has only increased, fuelled by the many conveniences that OTT offers over traditional broadcast. With streaming TV, the fight for the remote is laid to rest. Every person in a household can watch their favorite shows on their personal devices. Content can be viewed even while travelling, and consumers are spoilt for choice with languages, content variety, and on-demand viewing. Consumers have made their preferences clear - more people are cutting the cord, shifting from paid TV subscriptions to internet-based streaming services. Boston Consulting Group predicts that the OTT content market is at an inflection point in India and is likely to reach a market size of $5 billion by 2023.

From just two OTT platform providers in 2012 to about 40 players at present, the OTT revolution has come a long way in India. Estimates from Phando Corp suggest that monthly active users (MAUs) for India’s OTT video sector have grown at a blistering rate of 300% since 2019 to reach 680 million in 2021, with rural and tier 2 & 3 cities consumption reaching an 80% share.

West Versus India
Several factors including the widespread availability of broadband infrastructure, the ubiquity of mobile phones and other connected portable devices, and quest for personalised experiences have spurred the adoption of OTT consumption in the Western world. At the same time, technology investments, the emergence of new apps, features, and independent platforms for OTT content have also been growth drivers. Tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Apple, YouTube, connected device providers such as Samsung, Xiaomi, LG, and studios such Disney, MGM, Paramount, Sony are among the major corporations who have entered the OTT space, giving a plethora of programming choices to the consumers in the West.

The growth in OTT platforms combined with the subsequent content boom has seen vernacular content from different regions gaining international popularity. South Korean dystopian drama broke all records by becoming the most watched content on Netflix by netizens around the world. Similarly, Indian dramas such as Sacred Games and Delhi Crime were viewed and enjoyed by a global audience. As a result, all eyes are now firmly set on opportunities in emerging economies, specifically in the Indian subcontinent, with major players from the west entering the foray with attractive subscription offers, and diverse content catalogues. Some have chosen to collaborate with or acquire local brands to establish a firmer foothold in the region.

For example, with the launch of Disney Plus in the US back in 2019, the streaming service promptly expanded to many other countries, including India. However, instead of getting a dedicated app for Indian users, the company acquired the Hotstar streaming platform and soon rebranded to Disney+ Hotstar. The coming together of Disney and Star TV Network (20th Century Fox) attracted tens of millions of subscribers in India and provided them access to a premium catalogue of content from Disney and Star TV.

One of the challenges in India is the ability to monetize online content. Research suggests that the Advertising-led Video on Demand (AVOD) model is far more popular than Subscription-led video on demand (SVOD) models given the reluctance of viewers in India to pay for online content. While about 60% of total video viewing in India happens on YouTube, Netflix has 40 Mn monthly active users. Disney Plus Hotstar too has reached the critical mass with its freemium model, well-supported by relevant collaborations, such as sports (read cricket), which drives volume.

Also, a KPMG study reveals that, unlike the West, only 10% of viewers access OTT platforms for watching original content. Rather, OTT is used primarily for the convenience of anytime and personal viewing of movies, music, sports or to catch-up with TV content.

Driving OTT Growth in India
As a country with a population of 1.23 billion, India is the next big market for OTT platforms. Some of the growth drivers for OTT players in India, based on the precedent from the West include:

Investments in Content
Video streaming services are expected to spend around ₹1,920 crore to create original content for India in 2021, driven in part by the sharp rise in audiences during the 2020 lockdown. The platforms will further increase spends, including on sports, to ₹30,000 crore, during 2021-25, according to the latest FICCI-EY media and entertainment industry report. Around 500 original titles are likely to be released in 2021 across platforms, as opposed to 385 titles in 2019 and 220 in 2020.

The investment in original content makes sense given that viewers are learning to pay for the content they consume, especially original content. In 2020, 29 million subscribers paid for 53 million OTT video subscriptions (not counting subscriptions bundled along with data plans), a figure that is estimated to increase to 39 million subscribers for 71 million subscriptions in 2021. Netflix has more than 40 originals scheduled for 2021 and is expanding its slate by nearly three times compared to 2020. Amazon Prime Video has 50 local originals in various stages of development and 30 in various stages of production. Demand for original content will likely double by 2023 compared to 2019 levels.

● Content – the New Battlefield for Viewers
Increasing number of consumers from tier-2 and tier-3 cities have spurred the production of regional content. Alt Balaji has seen a change after the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the top 8 cities in India contributed to 70% of their total audience; post-April 2020, 60% of the traffic is from other tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Old favourite shows are being re-aired on OTT platforms, while investments in new content production continue. Recently Amazon announced the acquisition of MGM, for $8.45 billion, giving it access to MGM’s library of 4000 film titles and 17,000 TV shows.

We have witnessed the emergence of a wide variety of content including Indian content since India has a diverse market with over a dozen languages that are widely spoken across the country. OTT players are shifting their focus towards localisation of their platforms, to be able to connect with the Indian users, be it in terms of regional languages, geography and user experience etc. India already has about 40 OTT players and 10 music streaming apps in existence catering to various entertainment and media demands. This has opened the doors for OTT platforms to promote regional and hyperlocal content. In fact, a leading OTT player recently released 11 shows during the lockdown- all locally curated shows. The share of regional language consumption on OTT platforms is expected to cross 50% of total time spent by 2025, easing past Hindi at 45%.

Government Regulations
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has, in the past year, stressed the need for some form of regulation of OTT Platforms to streamline the sector. In this regard, the MIB recently notified the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021.

The new rules require OTT platforms to set up a robust three-tier grievance redressal mechanism. The first level will comprise regulation by the OTT Platform itself through a grievance officer. The second level will be an institutional self-regulatory body formed by publishers of content and their associations. This self-regulatory body will comprise industry experts headed by a retired Supreme Court/ High Court judge /eminent personality in the relevant field. At the third level is an inter-department committee constituted by the MIB that will provide oversight and hear appeals for decisions taken at level two or if a complaint is referred to the inter-department committee by MIB. Regulation might help improve the quality of content in the future.

● The Future of OTT - New Applications and Content Innovations
There is no doubt that the future of television is OTT, and the industry is at a nascent stage. Content is the force that defines the direction of evolution in the industry. New applications such as learning, education and fitness are being explored. Pricewaterhouse Coopers reported that in 2018, more than 40% of new internet users in the world were children. Edtech platforms like Byjus and Unacademy use the OTT streaming approach for education. Similarly, possible applications for learning management in corporations are being explored. While fitness was never considered an activity that could be done remotely, the pandemic saw this notion change. According to a Bobble.AI
report, besides video conferencing apps and websites, fitness applications such as Lose Weight, Cure.fit, recorded a 104.53% rise in daily active users. Video streaming platforms are also creating content to cater to this trend. Disney+ Hotstar has partnered with Brilliant Wellness, to introduce content from its fitness experts, yoga, and spiritual gurus.
India’s large population and relatively young age demographics make the business environment dynamic and interesting. Digital savvy young consumers in India are spread over a wide geography and have a vast range of preferences, languages and appreciate multi-cultural entertainment. As content and technology come together to create a solution that caters to this unique business environment, OTT and streaming media are here to stay.