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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Regional language OTTs use lockdown to expand footprint

  • Marathi film producer Akshay Bardapurkar is floating a Marathi language video streaming service called Planet Marathi while veteran Telugu filmmaker Allu Aravind launched a Telugu platform called Aha Video a couple of months ago

NEW DELHI : Even as foreign firms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video accumulate content across multiple Indian languages to widen reach, a bunch of homegrown OTT (over-the-top streaming) platforms have used the covid-19 lockdown to expand their footprint in the country focusing on specific languages as niches.

Marathi film producer Akshay Bardapurkar is floating a Marathi language video streaming service called Planet Marathi while veteran Telugu filmmaker Allu Aravind launched a Telugu platform called Aha Video a couple of months ago. Popular Telugu actor and producer Vishnu Manchu is also reportedly planning a VoD service specific to the language while the reimagined OTT platform from the house of IN10 Media Network, EPIC ON that went live this Independence Day, will have content in Tamil besides Hindi and English.

These join the few vernacular language platforms already present in the country such as Bengali service Hoichoi and Simply South which streams films in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

The unique challenges posed by the covid-19 lockdown have facilitated some of these investments.

“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 said adding that as of now, none of the existing streaming platforms are really investing in Marathi content, except ZEE5 to an extent. A lot of films are stuck since they have committed to selling their satellite and digital rights only after theatrical release. Given that uncertain scenario, Planet Marathi will allow producers to sell both exclusive and non-exclusive movie rights, which means they will be free to take their films to other platforms once normalcy resumes. Apart from making acquired films available on a pay-per-view basis, the service will also showcase kids content, music videos, cookery shows as well as its own originals for a subscription rate of less than Rs. 500 a year.

Bardapurkar said focusing on one language is a huge advantage given how widely communities such as the Marathi speaking population are spread out. In the past, people in Maharashtra have preferred watching Hindi films over those made in their own language but as the production quality of regional language content improves, people see value in watching stories come alive in their native language.

According to a report by Recogn, the market research division of digital marketing agency WATConsult released this July, 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. An EY survey said that 21% of the respondents in non-metros said they would spend more on entertainment as compared to 5% in the metros.

“Video streaming apps are a prime example of how one should never waste a good crisis," Sudish Balan, chief business officer at Tonic Worldwide, a digital-first creative agency said referring to the spike in viewership and average time spent on these platforms over the lockdown, to the tune of 300% in some cases. Vernacular services may be niche products but are big in their own regions. Rachana Monteiro, general manager at MediaCom, a GroupM-owned media agency said pockets like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or West Bengal have always watched content in their own language. What has changed now is supply of good content (through streaming platforms) following this demand.

It helps that now 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.

“There has been a complete behavioural change with OTT content viewing now having turned into an event," Balan added.

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