scorecardA hyperlocal OTT born in funding winter wants to tell stories in Indian dialects
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A hyperlocal OTT born in funding winter wants to tell stories in Indian dialects

A hyperlocal OTT born in funding winter wants to tell stories in Indian dialects
Business6 min read
  • Going hyperlocal, STAGE, a participant in Shark Tank Season 2, plans to upload OTT content in the top 20 dialects of the country.
  • STAGE started with Haryanavi dialect content in 2019, now has over 225,000 subscribers across Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • Urban OTT markets have reached their saturation point with top 6 metros contributing only 10% to India’s OTT universe, Ormax Media reported.
Shark Tank Season 2 participants and builders of Indore-based hyperlocal OTT platform STAGE, call themselves ‘cockroach’ founders. Back in 2018, when 87 million Facebook profiles were harvested for data without consent by a British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, Vinay Singhal, Parveen Singhal and Shashank Vaishnav lost their ₹300 crore content startup WittyFeed overnight, losing millions of followers, traffic and money. The startups offered content across entertainment, tech, politics, health and more.

“Most of our traffic was dependent on Facebook with a majority chunk coming from the USA, approximately 60 million users from there. In November 2018, Mark Zuckerberg got stuck in legal battles due to Cambridge Analytica and we got blocked. STAGE is our comeback,” said Shashank Vaishnav, co-founder and CTO of STAGE, told Business Insider India.

Beyond languages to dialects

Fast forward to 2019, STAGE shifted focus from out-of-India subscribers to Bharat. The startup claims to provide, quite literally, a ‘stage’ to local artists across India. Going beyond the regional language based OTTs that are already gaining attention, this startup claims to provide content across different dialects across Rajasthan and Haryana.

“In India, there are about 50 OTT platforms uploading regional based content. Dialects don’t have their own scripts, cinema or literature as opposed to language. Haryana has 11 different dialects, Bhojpuri alone spoken by 100 million people. STAGE aims to give a platform to local artists from these spaces,” said Singhal.

Regional OTTs like Koode in Malayalam, City Short TV in Gujarati, aha in Telugu, hoichoi of Bengali and Planet Marathi are some of the regional streaming services that are popular with users within and outside India.

Video viewership in India is dominated by the regional language user base. Consumers today spend about 50-60 percent of the average time on Hindi videos, followed closely by 35-43% on regional content videos with only 5-7% on English, states a FICCI-KPMGThe Digital First Journey’ report.

After independence, India preached the idea of one nation, one language. Languages that had their own script and culture survived while dialects, which are spoken in conversations, began getting lost, Singhal said.

“Hindi grew rapidly and thus dialects began to shrink. In 1900, India had about 19,500 different spoken dialects and languages. As of today, only 700 of these remain,” he added.

STAGE currently has over 5,000 artists, uploading content in dialects of Mewari, Harauti, Sikhawati, Bangaru to name a few. It’s valued at ₹290 crore, having raised ₹40 crore in Series A funding led by Blume Ventures.

The rise of Aam Aadmi’s viewership

India’s diversity in terms of viewership is evident in the fact that there are over 892 TV channels in India across music, movies, general entertainment, news, sports and more – and each of these divided into languages and a few local channels too survive till date.

India OTTs in spite of their growth are unable to cater to the diversified needs, and at the same time younger audience beyond metros are seeking new-age entertainment provided by the streaming services.

“Urban OTT markets have reached their saturation point and content is bound to go hyperlocal. The top 6 metros contribute only 10% to India’s OTT universe but 33% to total paid subscriptions in India,” said The Ormax OTT Audience Sizing Report 2022.

Indian OTTs have already hit a wall when it comes to acquiring the next set of customers. “A large share of the 20% growth in audience base has come from rural India and small towns. The metro cities have reached saturation levels, with more than 79% OTT penetration. Platforms will have to rely on the smaller markets for the next phase of growth,” said Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of Ormax Media.

This is the sweet spot that STAGE intends to cater to.

The rise of Hariwood: Haryana-wood

Local voices and their stories in the form of social drama, stand up comedy, documentaries and web series can find seekers easily. And, it’s a growing business. As per FICCI-KPMG report, the demand for original content was estimated to increase from 2,500 hours in 2021 to over 4,000 hours by 2024.

Moreover, there is enough and more talent across the grassroots that can be easily channelized onto the OTT platform.

“Standup artists from hyperlocal regions take to this craft because their real dream is to become an actor. Since the nascent industry of dialects is not making any movies, they started performing stand up to gain exposure. We have successfully created a local Bollywood in Haryana. They even refer to the industry as ‘Hariwood’. The same situation is in Rajasthan,” said Vinay Singhal.

The fact that movies like Kantara in a tribal setting found viewers across India, shows that hyperlocal platforms are capable of telling compelling ‘stories of the soil’. Very literally, there are many dances like the one seen in Kantara and have not been showcased on the right platform as of now.

“There are numerous local folk dances that people enjoy locally a lot. For example, in Haryana there is a live theatrical folk dance called Ragni. In Rajasthan, there is Kalbeliya dance, which is also a popular folk music performance widely witnessed in the state. We have started recording these local artists and their folk rituals and performances for STAGE,” said Parveen Singhal, chief content officer at STAGE, told Business Insider India.

A cockroach born in the winter

In spite of great potential, STAGE like most startups has to face the test of time that’s funding winter. But the startup itself is a survival story, and claims to be a cockroach that’s tough enough to survive any adversity.

“We are very frugal and our company was born in the winter so we are confident of raising and maintaining capital. But capital infusion will see improvement from April 2023 onwards because there is a lot of dry powder available in the market. Last year, the VCs raised a significant amount of capital to be deployed in startups,” Singhal said.

The idea of appearing on Shark Tank India Season 2, with their episode airing on January 4, was initially dismissed by the founders as the previous season of the show only funded early stage startups. STAGE was in the process of raising their Series A funding.

But it was a pleasant surprise for the startup to discover that the show now progressed from early stage to late stage funding as well. STAGE was offered ₹1.5 crore for 0.6% equity and ₹1.5 crore debt at 18% interest from Namita Thapar, Aman Gupta and Peyush Bansal, judges at Shark Tank India Season 2, which they accepted.

“We have already started preparing our website for the kind of traffic that is expected from the reality show, which has led to 3 times growth for companies who featured last season. Even though the judges are known to ask tough questions, they understood our story and it was an emotional moment for us,” said Singhal.

STAGE started with Haryanavi content in 2019, now has over 225,000 subscribers across Haryana and Rajasthan. By 2027, they aim to upload content in the top 20 dialects of the country, reaching over 200 million households across India.

It also plans to raise its Series B funding later this year. Its existing investors include Better Capital, IPV, TCA, Venture Catalysts and Blume Ventures.

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