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New Delhi: The pandemic lockdowns that sent millions of Indians indoors also sparked a boom in streaming video. According to media consulting firm Ormax, the number of Indians watching international English content has ballooned from 19.1 million before the pandemic outbreak to 85.2 million now, an increase of 124%. While some of them watch in English itself, others prefer the dubbed versions.

Of these, 42.7 million are SVoD or subscription video-on-demand (paying) viewers and 42.5 million are advertising video-on-demand viewers. According to Ormax, 65% of urban Indian SVoD audiences watch English content, across metros, mini-metros and small towns, proving that international programming is no longer niche but finding great draw across markets and demographics thanks to dubbed language versions.

The report, titled English Content in India: No Longer Niche was commissioned by Sony Pictures Television (SPT). It was based on qualitative research, interviews and online surveys across markets like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kolkata and Pune, covering individuals above 15.

The report also attributed the increasing popularity of English programmes to viewers trying out content outside their native languages.

“The idea that English content is only viewed by elite audiences in metros is no longer true. Dubbed versions of these shows on OTT platforms, which weren’t available on English channels on satellite television, has helped scale up consumption especially during the pandemic when Indian audiences tasted blood," said Shailesh Kapoor, founder and chief executive, Ormax Media.

With the language barrier broken, anyone with a paid subscription and access to streaming services can watch such programming. Much of the awareness around English language content stems from the marketing that platforms carry out on digital media such as YouTube or Instagram but many also track ratings on IMDb, Kapoor said.

46% of SVoD audience of English content prefer to watch it in an Indian language, be it Hindi or regional languages. Content available in Indian languages has led to a massive surge in viewership for English content, and will continue to be a key factor for further growth, via greater access and engagement, Ormax said.

Further, while there isn’t much difference between mini metros and small towns in terms of their preferred language, metros show higher preference towards English, which is a function of the higher exposure to the English language as well as an outcome of three of the six metros being in south India, where Hindi is not understood or spoken to the same degree. In metros, for example, 62% of audiences prefer to watch English content in English itself, followed by Hindi (26%) and other Indian languages (12%).

The report identified four major audience segments for English language content in India. One, lockdown millennials (32%) who got initiated only during the last two years of the pandemic. Two, male-dominated audiences (25%) with high propensity for action, superhero and science fiction that watch English content for Marvel films and episodes. Three, late bloomers (24%) or older audiences who still primarily watch Indian content and for whom English provides variety. Four, connoisseurs (19%) or audiences with comfort for the English language who watch both mass and niche formats.

English content does have the ability to bring new subscribers to OTT platforms. Around 66-67% SVoD viewers of English content identify the category as being an important aspect of their decision to subscribe to a platform. Other than foreign players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar, Kapoor said, platforms like MX Player and SonyLIV also make English programming available and the category should become an increasingly important part of company strategies.

Fourteen English language originals have crossed the 10 million viewership mark in India since January 2021. Only five properties crossed the 10 million mark in 2021, while nine managed the same in 2022. The highest viewed English originals in India include House of the Dragon (28.2 million), Moon Knight (23.4 million), Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (22 million), Hawkeye (19.3 million) and Ms Marvel (15.1 million), Ormax said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lata Jha
Lata Jha covers media and entertainment for Mint. She focuses on the film, television, video and audio streaming businesses. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. She can be found at the movies, when not writing about them.
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Updated: 11 Apr 2023, 01:13 AM IST
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