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New Delhi: The share of regional languages in overall OTT (over-the-top) video content will double from 27% in 2020 to 54% in 2024, as more streaming platforms take to vernacular programming and films, said a recent Ficci EY report. In 2021 alone, 47% of OTT originals and 69% of films released on platforms were not in Hindi.

Taking a cue, OTT platforms such as VOOT, SonyLIV and Disney+ Hotstar, too, are following in the footsteps of global giants Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to acquire films in the four southern languages besides Marathi and Punjabi as they seek to lure subscribers from tier-two and tier-three towns.

Media experts said streaming brands looking for national reach will have to focus on at least eight to nine languages. “With evolving consumer needs, we believe it is key to give audiences content options that appeal to their sensibilities. The overwhelming response received for our latest movie ‘83, and more recent regional successes like Maaran, Bro Daddy, Anbarivu, Akhanda, and several others, directly measure the viewers’ interests in storylines over languages featured. Our efforts to make our content available in the preferred language across platforms allows us to forge deeper emotional connections with audiences," said Gaurav Banerjee, head, content - Disney+ Hotstar and HSM (Hindi-speaking market) entertainment network, Disney Star.

All platforms have understood and recognized that if they need to be relevant across India, they will have to acquire as well create original content for regional markets, Ashwin Padmanabhan, president-partnerships and trading at media agency GroupM said.

“As OTTs started launching, the audiences they catered to was guided by their content library as well as strategy of going after the largest audiences. While many went after Hindi Speaking Markets (HSM) audiences, others like SUN Nxt focused on south content since they already have a huge library of movies and shows. Today with most platforms reaching a stage of maturity, everyone is expanding their audience base by acquiring and creating content in multiple regional languages," Padmanabhan said. VOOT and SonyLIV are also tuning to regional content, he said.

Keerat Grewal, partner at media consulting firm Ormax said many big-ticket theatrical films had to take the streaming route due to the pandemic, and they went on to generate sizable viewership numbers for the platforms. “Theatrical films got the older 30 plus age-group and small-town audiences on-board. Expanding their film library is hence a necessity for the platforms to increase their subscription base," Grewal said.

“This is an exciting time for content in any language to be successful anywhere. A story that is well told has the ability to make us laugh, or get excited or feel angry the same way, whether it is told in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu or English," a Netflix spokesperson said. Last year, the platform’s 28 Indian original titles were across seven languages, eight formats and 11 genres across films, series, comedy, reality and documentaries. “Dubs and subtitles play a major role in making these stories accessible to a much wider audience," the person said.

Hiren Gada, CEO, Shemaroo Entertainment Ltd that owns streaming app ShemarooMe said the company has understood the big appetite of regional viewers who have deep-rooted connection with their traditions and native languages. “It was one of the major reasons we consciously developed a strong regional strategy across all our platforms with one of the largest repositories of multi-genre and multi-lingual content," Gada said. Gujarat is an important market for the platform for which it expanded its content last year.

Soumya Mukherjee, vice-president, revenue and strategy at Bengali language service Hoichoi said the platform has doubled its investment in content and is coupling originals with movie premieres to cater the vast Bengali-speaking diaspora.

Sunder Aaron, co-founder and principal, Locomotive Global Inc, a production house working on web originals said this increased demand (for content across languages) drives pricing all through the value chain, including for writers, filmmakers, actors and crew. “Most good technicians are as busy as actors and writers these days, so it's a challenge to keep costs down," Aaron pointed out.

However, demand has led to the emergence of a new crop of actors and writers too are recognized better and given more time to develop material, said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India, which owns boutique studio Yoodlee Films.

“It’s a very good time to be in the creator economy for long-form content which is also leading to an evolution in storytelling," Kumar said.

 

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