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NEW DELHI : Even as streaming services offer a ready platform to smaller films minus the marketing expense required for theatres, most of these titles remain undiscovered on OTT (over-the-top) platforms which put their might behind the bigger films with popular faces. 

Media experts said that even though smaller films may recover some of their investments by selling to the platforms, their struggle to be seen widely continues. Emerging recommendation engines, however, are trying to bring to the fore undiscovered films that may match tastes of a generation that spends most of its time scrolling and searching, rather than viewing content.

“With more viewing options competing for a finite number of viewing hours, OTT platforms are grappling with the issue of discoverability of content. Any film which does not have network push, gets relegated to the bottom of the viewers’ discoverability pipeline. The networks are mostly driven by star appeal and usually promote high-budget films," said Saurabh Kumar Sahu, managing director and lead – communications, media and technology, Accenture India.

Besides most OTT platforms have sub-optimal recommendation engines, relying mostly on superficial parameters such as ‘genre’ and ‘actors.’ As a result, most users ‘scroll and click,’ instead of ‘search and discover,’ he added.

Content acquisition, especially films, by platforms is based on their strategy, overall business plan as well as the audience and regions they want to target, said Gautam Jain, partner at media consulting firm Ormax. “For some platforms, regional films become a good route to enter a market while for some other platforms it could be a way of offering diverse content to its global subscribers. In that context, the promotions for small-scale content could be limited to certain regions or target groups. The larger, full-fledged marketing campaigns are reserved for big-ticket acquisitions as they have higher chances of getting subscribers," Jain explained.

"With so many OTT platforms offering streaming content in India, subscribers are not only spoilt for choice but are also overloaded with content. People spend more than 24 minutes to find something to watch and many of them struggle to find something interesting, content discovery is a real challenge on OTT which in turn leads to decision paralysis," said Rushabh Mehta, head of business development at Flyx, a social media network that allows people to curate content lists and give recommendations.

"This problem gets further accentuated with the regional language films, which saw direct-to-digital release without significant marketing spends," Mehta added.

Pratiksha Rao, director, films and licensing, Netflix India said the platform is constantly working to improve its recommendations, so members can discover the right film or series at the right moment. “It could be a story they are familiar with or a story that's entirely new to them," Rao added. Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar declined to comment on discovery of smaller films on platforms.

Digital platforms that work with limited marketing budgets and spend most on big-ticket content they believe will fetch eyeballs, said Gaurav Srivastav, founder and director, Firstkut, a content promotion platform.

Some producers may not even be paid upfront but receive a share of revenue based on viewership, Srivastav said. Firstkut hosts trailers and links to other social media and promotional material of films. The platform is coming up with more holistic pages dedicated to individual movies that allow for easier discovery.

This May, HT Labs, HT Media’s innovation hub, which is developing digital-first products for audiences based on their preferences, launched OTTplay, a content discovery platform offering curated shows and movies on streaming platforms. The recommendations will be based on a user’s preference, such as language, platform, genre, actors and filmmakers, from a selection of 150,000 movies and 30,000 shows across 10 languages and 35-plus OTT platforms. HT Media is the publisher of Mint.

“Recommendation engines like us will help bring about non-biased democratization and uniformity among content offerings," said Balkrishna Hari Singh, founder and CEO, Frenzi -- a single-window search and recommendation app for streaming content that says it is important for technology companies to now pick up on how they track user behaviour. The fact that a lot of households see parents and children watch content on one television set leads to confused inputs but the process is evolving gradually especially as tier-one and two towns come on board, Singh added.

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