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NEW DELHI : Over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms are fast lining up big films for the festive quarter to retain existing viewers and add new ones to their base. 

OTT services, which saw their viewership jump by nearly 50-60% at the peak of the covid-19 pandemic last year, are seeing a 10% decline in growth rates and fear further dip of 5-7% as families step out for celebrations and cinemas start re-opening with big-ticket films.

To attract new viewers and entertain their user base, streaming services are targeting blockbuster releases for holiday weekends. Netflix will premiere Karan Johar’s Meenakshi Sundareshwar for Diwali and a superhero flick Minnal Murali for Christmas while Disney+ Hotstar has Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon-starrer Hum Do Humare Do for Diwali.

ZEE5 will showcase Taapsee Pannu-starrer Rashmi Rocket to coincide with Dussehra this week while Amazon Prime Video has Vicky Kaushal’s Sardar Udham and Tamil star Suriya’s Jai Bhim for Dussehra and Diwali respectively.

“With people homebound and no alternative means of entertainment available during the peak of the pandemic, viewership on OTT had clearly peaked. But the festive season comes with the whole vibe and energy of social engagement and users will definitely have little time to consume content on a personal device," admitted a senior streaming platform executive who did not wish to be named. The person added that OTT services are also expecting cinemas to come back with a vengeance since people have been cooped up at home for far too long.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, ZEE5 and SonyLIV did not respond to Mint’s queries.

“With people still required to stay home as much as possible, OTT platforms will be one of the best sources of entertainment during this festive season. There is always at least a slight spike in viewership during most holidays," Divya Dixit, senior vice-president, revenue and marketing, ALTBalaji said referring to OTT as a more pocket-friendly option.

The platform, she said, will push the envelope harder on innovations across user interface and experience, creating a pipeline of content, new business models, and marketing strategies this festive season. “Theatres and OTT will continue to co-exist as the former will always be part of a planned outing whereas the latter has now become a daily source of entertainment for most netizens," Dixit added.

Ajay Mehta, founder and managing director of entertainment marketing company Interactive Television (iTV) said the company is seeing a strong trend in people venturing out of home. Metros are showing the quickest return to normalcy in mobility. “We expect the cinemas to have a good quarter. The safety techniques employed by national multiplex chains are also quite robust and will give confidence to the audiences. Every new release is a step in the journey of cinemas coming back to pre-pandemic occupancy levels and unless there is a third wave, we see a possibility of occupancy levels reaching pre-covid levels very quickly. This is also on the back of revenge consumption," Mehta added.

Hiren Gada, chief executive officer at Shemaroo Entertainment that owns the ShemarooMe app said their platform is seeing the reopening of theatres as a positive development since ultimately big-ticket films will be able to make their way to streaming platforms. “Plus, the pandemic is not yet over and there still are restrictions by the government," Gada said. If people are home, they will look forward to family-oriented programming, he said. The service will launch a Gujarati-language web show in the run-up to Diwali.

Soumya Mukherjee, vice-president, revenue and strategy, at Bengali streaming service Hoichoi said the October to January period brings in their main business and while people do step out, they also expect premium titles on OTT. The service will bring out a show called Byomkesh 7 for Diwali.

Ali Hussein, CEO, Eros Now said the return of audiences to cinemas will not have a band-aid rip-off effect on OTTs in terms of a drastic change in viewership. “People will go back slowly over a period of three to four months and a lot will depend on how films like Sooryavanshi perform," he added. Eros will release a love anthology titled Aisa Waisa Pyaar and a horror show around Diwali.

Mehul Gupta, co-founder and CEO at SoCheers, an independent digital agency said while theatres have their own charm, streaming habits are now pretty much, ingrained in people and there will be no immediate change in user behaviour. “The festive season is a big opportunity and services can definitely create value for families," Gupta said calling the recent initiative by Amazon to bundle other SvoD services on its app and website under Prime Video channels, timely.

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