Thirty-five-year-old Vishnu Mohta is pleased that in 15 days of its launch, his over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platform Hoichoi saw 60,000 downloads. A one-stop shop for Bengali entertainment, Hoichoi has been launched by Kolkata-based television and film production company SVF, where Mohta is executive director. Targeted at Bengali-speaking audiences, Hoichoi has kicked off operations with 500 films and a clutch of original web series in different genres—all in Bengali of course.

Hoichoi co-founder Mohta explains that it was the right time for SVF—which has 110 Bengali film productions to its credit—to enter the digital space as web content is the next big thing in storytelling. To launch its platform though, Mohta acquired 400 films and plans to add two new originals to the existing portfolio every month.

There are a couple of reasons why SVF launched a site dedicated to Bengali content. Firstly, the company specializes in content in the language, be it films or TV shows. Secondly, it believes it has an audience size of more than 250 million in India, Bangladesh and elsewhere. Besides, Mohta says that the future of OTT is in regional language content. “Nearly 75% of the new internet customers are coming from tier 2 and tier 3 towns. And 70-80% of those want to consume content in their own language," he explains.

Interestingly, it’s not just Mohta who sees a future in vernacular content. Several executives working for other OTT platforms say that given its potential, regional language content will comprise a significant chunk of their portfolios going forward. Viacom18 Digital Ventures’ video platform Voot, for instance, already has content in seven languages that includes Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Bangla and Gujarati besides English and Hindi. This includes content from its broadcast network’s TV channels, dubbed shows from its Hindi general entertainment channel Colors, as well as dubbed children’s programming. It is on the verge of starting Voot Originals in regional languages, considering 25% of its consumption is already in regional languages.

“We have a large audience base that wants to consume shows in their preferred language. As digital video goes even deeper, the biggest growth will come from going even more regional," says Gaurav Gandhi, chief operating officer, Viacom Digital Ventures.

Rajiv Vaidya, chief executive officer of movie streaming service Spuul agrees—a majority of the next 200 million internet users will consist of those who would like to watch content in their native language.

Nickhil Jakatdar, founder and chief executive of Vuclip, which runs the video platform Viu in India, in addition to several markets in Asia including the Middle East, says regional content on OTT will command close to 30% of the overall share in the years to come. Indian language internet users will drive the next phase of internet adoption in the country. This new generation of users will come on board from tier 2 and tier 3 cities and with this potential increase in the consumer base, there will be an immense demand for “intriguing" regional content. In India, Viu is creating bilingual content in Hindi and Telugu. Voot, meanwhile, is beginning to work on Tamil shows. In the children’s segment, it’s working on shows in Malayalam and Telugu.

Print and TV have demonstrated that consumers want to consume media in their preferred language when it’s available. “The same is true for streaming services. The on-demand and targeted nature of streaming is even more suited to language-focused content," says Gandhi. Although he sees key regional language content creation and availability of streaming services going up dramatically, he does not see too many dedicated services in each language.

Jakatdar, too, believes that while there is a huge market for regional content, introducing individual platforms for specific languages may not be viable. “We believe that the winning approach is to have a holistic entertainment platform where one caters to the entertainment needs of multiple audiences," he says.

“Anyone wanting scale will have to operate across 6-7 languages in this country," says Gandhi.

To be sure, in India’s crowded market that boasts of close to 25 OTT platforms, every brand is attempting to create a niche. However, a winner will need to have a content strategy rooted in consumer insights that drives viewership over the long term and retains customers. The other must-haves are frictionless on-boarding of consumers and technology rooted in delivering a superior consumer experience, feels Jakatdar. To succeed, distribution, packaging and scale will be key.

Going forward, experts in the sector expect both a spurt in digital advertising as well as consolidation. Once the TV viewership monitoring agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India starts measuring digital media, it will provide a big boost to monetization of digital video platforms, some of which have some serious audience scale. Eventually, the industry may witness consolidation with 8-10 strategic players in the space in the long term.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com

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