Over the top for quality content

Streaming video services are beginning to disrupt the Indian television market and bowl over consumers with better entertainment

By Author  |  (With inputs from Agencies)  |  Published: 22nd Jul 2018  12:23 am
quality content

Many of us are moving away from TV. With news programmes increasingly becoming opinionated and the entertainment shows becoming predictable, people are beginning to keep away. That the reach of internet has increased manifold, and many more of us use smartphones have added to this flight from television to social media. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc are the preferred platforms. More than ever, the TV is now living up to its reputation of being the idiot box.

Behind this flight is also the lack of quality content, especially when it comes to entertainment programmes. The heavily sanitised one-size-fits-all programmes do not appeal to the discerning viewer, who is shifting to other platforms to choose content of her own liking. This trend of declining traditional television viewing is opening opportunities for the ascent of over-the-top (OTT) video or on-demand streaming video, which is catching on.

Many Players

In fact, there is a proliferation of OTT players in the country. Right from global players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to homegrown offerings such as Star India’s Hotstar, Viacom18’s Voot, Balaji Telefilms’ ALTBalaji, Sony’s SonyLiv, Eros International’s Eros Now, Reliance Entertainment’s BigFlix and Jio TV, there are about 30 OTT players in India.

Last month, PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated that in four years, India is set to be among the top ten OTT video markets in the world. The OTT video revenue in India, pegged at Rs 2,019 crore in 2017, is expected to clock Rs 5,595 crore by 2022, growing at a CGAR of around 23%.

Deloitte India TMT Predictions 2018 report states that India’s OTT video viewers are expected to grow to 355 million by 2020. It pointed out that a 100% jump was noted in the subscriber base of Hotstar from 33 million in August 2016 to 67.5 million in August 2017. In August 2017, the user base of Netflix and Amazon Prime Videos grew to 5.37 million and 12.64 million, respectively.

Free from Censorship

Theatrical releases in India are regulated by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which through the process of certification, can order edits in films. However, the CBFC has no jurisdiction over online platforms.

The free-from-censorship status is a big plus that helps the OTT providers much more freedom than traditional movie-makers, who have no choice, but to regularly cut scenes from films at the cinema and on TV, as desired by the CBFC prior to their release. Industry watchers expect these players to snap up subscribers by producing bolder content.

Having said that, the OTT players are resorting to some self-censorship. When Netflix India released a censored version of the film titled Angry Indian Goddesses in May 2017, critics panned it. This is done primary to ensure that they do not land into trouble as well to not run afoul of Indian sensibilities. Moreover, India’s Downlinking Guidelines; the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860, are applicable to these streaming platforms.

Better Content

Netflix’s first original Indian series – Sacred Games – an adaptation of Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel of the same name, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Saif Ali Khan and Radhika Apte, released on July 6. The eight-part series — filmed mainly in Hindi — centres on the attempts of police officer Sartaj Singh, played by Khan, to capture mafia boss Ganesh Gaitonde (Siddiqui).

“Sacred Games” is probably the most high-profile content that has been made. Others have not been on the same scale,” Girish Menon, who tracks media and entertainment for KPMG pointed out, stating that “the content that appears on television is very homogenous. It’s typically soap operas aimed at women. We can expect slightly edgier, differentiated new-age type content on OTT platforms.”

‘Sacred Games’ follows Hindi-language movie ‘Love per Square Foot’ and ‘Lust Stories’, a collection of four short films, which both came out on Netflix earlier this year. The four-part film, with segments directed by Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap, became Netflix’s most-watched original in percentage terms in any individual market in the first month.

Another original series, produced in India, called ‘Ghoul’, will release on August 24. Recently, it announced the adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s multiple-award winning novel ‘Midnight’s Children’. ‘Selection Day’, based on Aravind Adiga’s novel about cricket and corruption, is also in the works. The company is also producing a documentary series about the Mumbai Indians.

According to AFP, Netflix, which is blocked in China, is investing millions in India to attract young consumers with access to cheap mobile data and an appetite for something different. Netflix and Amazon have signed deals with Bollywood megastars Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, respectively, to secure the rights to their films, setting themselves somewhat apart from their competitors. Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films and Anil Kapoor Film and Communication Network Pvt Ltd are also on board with them.

Amazon has also released a host of original Indian content, including crime drama ‘Breathe’ and several successful stand-up comedy shows.

Hotstar is Star

But it is Hotstar that dominates India’s streaming landscape owing to its huge catalogue of entertainment and movie channels owned by Star India, many of which are free to view. It also streams live cricket and English Premier League football. A yearly subscription for all content costs Rs 999, the same as an Amazon Prime membership.

Netflix’s India subscriptions start at Rs 500 a month, something that experts say currently restricts its appeal to well-off Indians. Hotstar had 75 million monthly active subscribers in India at the end of 2017, compared to 5 million for Netflix, according to tech consultancy Counterpoint Research. Amazon Prime Video had 11 million users in India.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently acknowledged that the company is playing catch up to Hotstar and Google’s YouTube in India. “Those are really the leaders on the internet,” he said adding that “there’s so much TV viewing – linear TV – that could be internet viewing.” Hastings has been incredibly bullish about India saying in February that the “next 100 million” Netflix users will come from the country. Netflix does not carry advertisements.

Tapping Regional

Experts say producing high-quality programmes in Hindi and regional Indian languages is essential if others have to make up ground on market leader Hotstar. “One needs to have local content. It’s a given,” stresses Frank D’Souza, a media and entertainment analyst with PwC in Mumbai.

‘Maya Thirrai’, ALTBalaji’s first regional Tamil show was launched in May and now they have turned their focus on introducing regional shows in Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, and Gujarati. SonyLiv has launched its Marathi web series named Yolo and has plans to foray into regional short films.

With the OTT ecosystem gradually moving beyond cities into smaller towns and rural areas, the viewer could soon have the final word on what she wants to see or simply avoid.