Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Maturing of the digital content ecosystem

With the increase in the number of OTT firms, the appetite for content will only rise

Action in the digital content space is heating up. In the last few weeks, at least two new content production units have come up, promising to make shows for digital platforms in the country.

Banijay Group, a Paris-based production house which has been introduced to this market in a 50:50 joint venture with former Endemol Shine managing director Deepak Dhar; and Tipping Point, the content arm of the film production company Viacom 18 Motion Pictures. Tipping Point promises content for online audiences through web series, short films and non-traditional formats.

Currently, there are over two dozen over-the-top (OTT) video streaming firms competing for eyeballs including international brands such as Netflix and Amazon Prime as well as Indian brands like Voot and Hotstar, among others.

The new firms offering content join TV production houses, independent producers as well as a clutch of filmmakers who have jumped onto the OTT bandwagon.

Directors like Kabir Khan, Shirish Kunder, Sujoy Ghosh and Anand L. Rai are all working for OTT platforms, probably attracted by the creative freedom that these platforms allow to present unconventional narratives without interference from the censor board and restrictions of traditional formats like TV and films.

According to Vishal Maheshwari, country head, India, at the OTT platform Viu, the digital landscape has definitely redefined the overall content ecosystem in the country.

“More than fragmenting it, it’s expanding it to bring in not just new players, but also different types and genres of content along with local talent. People are consuming more content than ever before, and there are also more players entering the space. So, it is right to anticipate that the content ecosystem will be growing at a staggering pace in the coming years."

Uday Sodhi, executive vice-president and head, digital business at Sony Pictures Networks, says production houses and OTT operators are focusing on niche content that will continue to expand.

“Another major trend is the preference for vernacular with 93% of the time spent on videos in Hindi and other regional languages. The content ecosystem has matured, owing to improved internet access. With over 300 million smartphone users in the country, creators are coming from tier-2 and tier-3 cities and OTT players are investing in going regional," he says.

Experts say that in the early stages of streaming, the first 5 to 10 million people were from the metros, and the audience had a male skew.

Now, that number has grown multifold and the audience is diverse. Viewers are searching for new stories. They are watching international shows but they also want shows in their own language.

To be sure, streaming allows you to create different stories—not necessarily for a mass audience. Digital platforms don’t face the compulsion that broadcasters do—to get TRPs. So, there is a big wave for original content, and actors, writers and directors want to be a part of it. Viu claims it is releasing 30 originals this year.

With the increase in the number of OTT firms, the appetite for content will only rise. Endemol Shine, for instance, is currently in talks with both Netflix and Amazon to create shows. “We are gung-ho on content for digital platforms," says Abhishek Rege, its chief executive. He expects the OTT platforms to invest approximately Rs1,000 crore in digital content per year.

“We are witnessing a structural shift that’s caused by humongous uptake of smartphones in India and rapid drop in data prices coupled with sharp rise in data consumption. And video is at the centre of it," explains Manav Sethi, chief marketing officer at ALTBalaji, the video streaming app owned by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms.

He believes that India has traditionally been an entertainment-starved market and it’s only now that 300-400 million first-timers have the potential to consume videos on their smartphones while they are on the move.

“And it’s personal unlike TV which has been a family device. So, it’s possible today to take stories that haven’t been told before to these millions of people," Sethi adds.

Even as the digital content ecosystem evolves, the single biggest challenge is monetization. But OTT operators say that monetization models will emerge now that they are getting the audiences.

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.

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