Home >Industry >Media >Original, vernacular content to be key for OTTs in 2021

Even as they amass vast libraries of premium, international language programming, video streaming services will have to continue to focus on local language, original content across vernacular languages if they wish to penetrate deeper into the Indian heartland. According to the annual media and entertainment report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) along with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), 35-40% of the consumption on OTT services happens in local languages and the hours of original programming that has tripled between 2018 and 2020, now stands at 1,400-1,800, as of 2020, across services.

For instance, Netflix has gone up from 30 Indian originals in 2018 to 90 in 2020, Amazon Prime Video from 90 to 110. Add to that homegrown OTT service such as ZEE5, which has released almost two originals per month across Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali and Kannada for premium customers, or SonyLIV, which has broken out this year with sleeper hits such as Scam 1992-The Harshad Mehta Story and Undekhi . Plus there has been consolidation and advent of language-focused services such as Hoichoi (Bengali), aha Video (Telugu) or Letsflix (Marathi). The focus on regional languages makes sense given that the share of rural India had grown 23% to make up 52% of all Internet users in the country by March 2020, according to the report.

“The growth during this lockdown has been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity," said Vishnu Mohta, co-founder at Hoichoi. “We had to make sure we met the demand with adequate supply."

Marathi film producer Akshay Bardapurkar who is floating a Marathi language video streaming service called Planet Marathi said the unique challenges posed by the covid-19 lockdown have facilitated some of these investments in vernacular content.

“There are so many Marathi films lying around waiting for theatrical release but the truth is nobody knows when theatres will reopen or what the future of theatrical showcasing will be like and that puts their recovery in jeopardy," Bardapurkar had said adding that as of now, not many of the existing streaming platforms are really investing in Marathi content, except ZEE5 to an extent. Bardapurkar said focusing on one language is a huge advantage given how widely communities such as the Marathi-speaking population are spread out and the fact that they are increasingly learning to appreciate high-quality content made in their own language.

"There are always advantages to being a hyperlocal service," Ajit Thakur, CEO, aha Video, said referring to the fact that the service is able to understand the specific language market perfectly well that helps it make content decisions. For instance, aha was able to acquire several Telugu language films that it knew were ready but couldn't find theatrical release during the lockdown.

According to a report released this July by Recogn, the market research division of digital marketing agency WATConsult, 70% of Indians will access the Internet in their native languages by the end of this year. It adds that programmes around food, entertainment and education are always deemed better in local languages. It helps that since the lockdown, streaming content is being watched by people as old as 55 plus bringing them into the fold of what was considered a medium for the young.

“Core pockets su Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Kerala have always preferred to watch content in their own languages. That habit has only intensified during the lockdown and supply has followed demand," Rachana Monteiro, general manager at MediaCom, a GroupM-owned media agency said.

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