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Video streaming platforms are expecting around 20% growth in viewership this year even as easing restrictions allow people to step out for outdoor entertainment.

The large number of platforms and offerings available across languages and genres has increased the appetite for content consumption, executives at platforms said, on the back of cheap data packs and smartphone penetration.

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While engagement time has dipped marginally since the peak of the lockdown, investment in regional content and programming for small towns offer immense scope, along with under-utilized genres like unscripted shows.

“The covid-19 pandemic brought a lot of new customers into the OTT category and they will continue to stick on, and not at the cost of other avenues because the overall time spent on entertainment has gone up and that trend is here to stay," said Ferzad Palia, head, subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) and international business, Viacom18 Digital Ventures. Platforms like these have not seen any slowdown since the lockdown and subscriptions are far from plateauing, Palia added. Overall, platforms have seen around 30-40% spike in paid subscribers over the past year, said Mehul Gupta, co-founder and CEO at SoCheers, an independent digital agency.

The reopening of theatres will not really break the continuity, he said. Film buffs may go to cinemas but they also have the option to watch the film on an OTT platform in a few weeks’ time in addition to exhaustive libraries of original and international content.

“With people being forced to stay indoors, OTT has moved from personal to family consumption. Looking at current trends, the next wave of growth in OTT platforms seems to be driven by hyper personalization of content across devices, platforms, and geographies," Manish Kalra, chief business officer, ZEE5 India said.

The company, Kalra added, has seen an accelerated adoption of connected devices where three out of five SVoD users watched content via connected devices recording over 80% growth during covid-19.

Overall engagement grew along with audiences spending more time watching content on the big screen versus smartphones. Besides deploying technology to provide a ‘living room’ viewing experience, ZEE5 has observed that the audience consumes more family entertainment content.

“We foresee the next wave of growth to come from tier-2 and tier-3 cities looking for diversity in original content and genres," Kalra added.

Greg Armshaw, senior director solution sales, Asia-Pacific (APAC), Brightcove Inc., a global provider of cloud solutions for video said that OTT viewership is expected to grow by 16% in the APAC region with India remaining a major driver of the growth.

The diversity of players will lead to new revenue streams and opportunities. For instance, platforms could conceptualize content around national holidays or the wedding season or add value by having brands sponsor programmes. Last year, Disney+Hotstar had premiered Spirit of Scotland hosted by actor Kunal Kapoor created by media agency Wavemaker for liquor firm Pernod Ricard that explores the country and its history of scotch.

To be sure, while many platforms pivoted towards direct-to-digital releases of Bollywood films during the pandemic, that is unlikely to be a long-term strategy. A Netflix spokesperson said the company had some near-term opportunities to further bolster its slate but there’s no fundamental change to its strategy, adding “We were already big believers in original films and we’re investing into it."

“The pandemic has initiated many creative conversations such as whether films can be made specifically for OTT. While 95% of the viewing on OTT happens for web shows, docu-dramas could emerge as a genre soon. Thrillers and humour always work while crime could see more exposure," said Neeraj Roy, founder and CEO, Hungama Digital Media adding that they are working on nearly 20 originals this year versus 14 in 2020.

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