New Delhi: Binge-watching starts early in the day for Indians as they commute to faraway offices glued to shows such as Sacred Games on Netflix, arriving at their desks with refreshed minds, if tired eyes.
Online video streaming companies claim morning (8-10am) and evening (6-8pm) commute hours, along with late-night binge viewing, make up as much as 60% of consumption on these platforms.
Busy users with long commutes to their workplaces or colleges are among the growing number of online video consumers who are turning India into a nation that binge-watches on the go, sometimes at odd hours. Armed with cheap smartphones and data plans, they contribute to a major chunk of the streaming services’ viewership.
In Mumbai, 21-year-old Suhani Lakhotia rarely wastes a minute of her hour-long work commute from Santa Cruz to Chembur. Lakhotia, a photojournalist, spends most of her time in the city’s crowded local trains and autos watching Netflix shows on her iPhone 7. She recently finished a season of American comedy show The Good Place and has also binged on Narcos and Gilmore Girls.
Riya Jain follows a similar routine. It takes more than three hours for her to travel from her home in Faridabad to IP University in Delhi, a time the 18-year-old uses to watch mostly English-subtitled Korean shows such as Descendants Of The Sun, Healer and Ms Hammurabi. This, she claims, has not only helped her improve her English but also indulge in some me-time.
“I rarely read books while travelling. It’s mostly video for entertainment and knowledge," said Jain who pays ₹600 for a Vodafone connection every three months and uses up to a gigabyte of data daily. “I cannot watch these shows with my family."
A November 2017 survey by American streaming service Netflix says India is clearly a nation of commute streamers. Indians are 82% more likely to stream at 9am, a behaviour that continues on the ride home, too, as peak streaming in India is at 5pm. Streaming platforms determine whether a user is using mobile data based on whether the connectivity is patchy.
“The primary device for a lot of video consumption in India, especially one that is Internet-based, currently is the mobile, which by its very nature can be accessed anytime anywhere," said Vishal Maheshwari, country head, India, Viu, a video service offering Indian movies and Korean dramas, besides originals. “Given the long hours of commute and urbanization, a large part of OTT consumption, be it video or music, really happens on the mobile and because it is private, during downtime."
Maheshwari said 80-90% of the consumption on Viu is driven by Korean TV shows. Originals, including those in languages such as Tamil and Telugu, are also popular but clearly, India is not a nation that is only looking to stream short format content. “The trend on short and snacky content has actually changed over the past three years. We have people who are watching one-hour content pieces at a stretch. The length is no longer a constraint, what happens is that people tend to break up a piece of content into multiple sessions," Maheshwari said.
Akash Banerji, head of marketing, partnerships and licensing, Voot, the digital arm of media and entertainment company Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd, added that commute viewing in India’s top cities accounts for the bulk of consumption, with a majority of the audience falling in the male 25-plus category. Like Viu, Voot users too are watching movies, episodes of reality shows and stand-up comedy specials in multiple sessions. Last year, Voot tied up with 12,000 Maharashtra State Road Transport Corp. buses where, if users had the app on their phones, they could browse through content in offline mode even on journeys as long as from Nagpur to Satara.
“OTT (over-the-top) is the new ‘catch-up TV’," said Sidharth Rao, chief executive of digital media agency Webchutney. “While earlier, content was created to suit fixed-time viewing, with the advent of on-demand viewing, this parameter is no longer required."
The availability of cheap smartphones and data packs has made all the difference. However, Internet connectivity remains inconsistent in India and streaming services are constantly looking at overcoming the constraint of patchy networks.