On-demand video streaming platforms saw a flux of new viewers during lockdown, especially women and small-town audiences. Some platforms have sustained that push even beyond the lockdown
When covid-19 shut down the box office, over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms came to Bollywood’s rescue. In July, Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer Dil Bechara made the biggest opening ever on Disney+ Hotstar. This was just one of many success stories of web platforms this year. Can the new audiences stay on in 2021?
Industry and internet search data show viewership on OTT platforms indeed spiked in April, especially in smaller towns and cities. The early effect has not sustained for all platforms alike, but net viewership continues to be much higher than pre-pandemic months.
But Google search trends show a mixed picture in the second half of the year. Search traffic for Amazon’s Prime Video, for instance, had come down a bit by November, after a spectacular rise in April. Most searches were limited to metropolises and a few tier-I cities in February, but come April, the interest fanned out to several lower-tier cities and towns. But fewer smaller cities appeared in November trends. For some other platforms such as Netflix and Hotstar, the small-town spike has sustained, somewhat.
Search interest in Prime Video can be a key indicator for the fate of such platforms, given that it was the biggest gainer during the lockdown. Data from Sensor Tower, a US-based market intelligence firm, showed that downloads increased for most OTT platforms during April-June. Prime Video got 12.6 million downloads in India on Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store during the period, 45% more than the March quarter. ZEE5, an Indian subscription-based video on-demand service, was next with 10.6 million downloads.
For ZEE5, the gains remained huge even as the year progressed. Even in November, the platform registered 2.6 times as many new subscribers as it did a year ago, said a spokesperson. The number of subscribers in 2020 was thrice that of last year.
MX Player, a video-on-demand service that runs on advertising rather than paid subscriptions, claimed to have got 200 million active users in November.
“Not only have we seen a 4-5 times growth in the number of users and their viewing time this year, we have managed to retain them as well," said chief executive officer Karan Bedi. “A number of these viewers who tried our content for the first time, after having watched linear content on TV for years, seem to be liking it."
Bedi said the audience was predominantly male, but the share of women viewers increased during the lockdown. “We also saw an increase in depth, with more viewers from tier-2 and tier-3 cities," he added.
A YouGov survey of 8,218 respondents conducted during May-June had confirmed a similar trend. Women were found to be more likely than men to have increased their consumption of on-demand video. More people in tier-1 cities reported an increased intake, but viewers from smaller cities were not far behind.
Streaming platforms have been responding to these trends, and this may well carry into 2021. Several women-centric shows and movies were released this year, such as Aarya on Hotstar, Shakuntala Devi and Thappad on Prime Video, and Flesh on Eros Now. In a blog post, Netflix India said Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl and Raat Akeli Hai—movies with strong female leads—were the most popular drama and thriller films, respectively, in India this year.
A small town-based series, Jamtara: Sabka Number Aayega, had the longest run among Indian titles on Netflix’s Top 10 leaderboard in India. Regional-language content was not far behind though. Several Indian-language shows and movies dominated internet search trends and generated conversation on online forums. Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, a Telugu movie on Netflix, logged one of the highest Google search volumes, even more than Ludo and Panchayat.
However, leading the way was a foreign-made show, Money Heist on Netflix, much like Game of Thrones in previous years.
All this bodes well for India’s online streaming sector. The industry would anyway have grown in the coming years, but got a massive push from the suspension of TV shooting early in the lockdown. A recent report by PwC found that India was now the world’s fastest growing
OTT market, with revenues already eclipsing that of the box office.
However, the one big task that the sector has going into the new year is to retain the interest of the sizable small-town market.