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Media and entertainment industry experts say OTT (over-the-top) streaming players have made the most of the opportunity in a country like India known to relish free content (Kishore Rawat)
Media and entertainment industry experts say OTT (over-the-top) streaming players have made the most of the opportunity in a country like India known to relish free content (Kishore Rawat)

Streaming platforms double paid subscribers in India during covid

  • Netflix expanded its subscriber base to about 5 million from about half that number in May, while Disney+ Hotstar reported about 9 million subscribers in August
  • According to a study by marketing and advertising company Dentsu, young Indians, including millennials and Gen Z, purchased two to three new OTT subscriptions during covid

Video streaming platforms in India, which are now catering to viewers locked up at home due to the covid pandemic, have seen a 60%-80% spike in their paid subscribers, with a few big players even doubling numbers by the end of the year. Media and entertainment industry experts say OTT (over-the-top) streaming players have made the most of the opportunity in a country like India known to relish free content. The platforms have lured viewers by dishing out original and acquired shows and films, offering reasonably priced packages, often bundled with telcos.

Netflix expanded its subscriber base to about 5 million from about half that number in May, according to Media Partners Asia, a research and consulting firm. Similarly, Disney's earnings data show that Disney+ Hotstar reported about 9 million subscribers in August. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video did not respond to Mint’s queries on numbers.

According to a study by marketing and advertising company Dentsu, young Indians, including millennials and Gen Z, purchased two to three new OTT subscriptions during covid. A lot of fence-sitters who had so far been rationalizing their spends between movies, OTTs and other outings now had more in hand (given the dearth of other options), Chetan Asher, co-founder and CEO of Tonic Worldwide, a digital-first creative agency pointed out.

“OTT platforms have been very smart in crafting plans. The covid-19 lockdown may have instigated people to stay home but this is a combination of well-positioned deals along with great content," said Mehul Gupta, co-founder and CEO of independent digital agency SoCheers. Platforms have understood that big-screen owners in the country are still few and most are turning to their smartphones to watch content.

For instance, American streaming services such as Netflix, which started with a Rs499 monthly plan, soon moved to a mobile-only subscription priced at Rs199 last year, followed by a Rs349 plan launched this July that makes high definition (HD) content available for mobile phones, laptops and tablets, but not television screens. Amazon, which earlier only offered an annual subscription of Rs999, rolled out the monthly Rs129 plan a couple of months into its launch in India.

Ali Hussein, CEO, Eros Now, said the journey of the OTT market in India has mirrored that of telcos, whose prices were sky-high at one point, then there was a big fall but that will look at course correction soon. The price elasticity by OTTs, as of now, however, is aimed at bringing fringe customers into the fold and enabling discovery by middle India, especially over the past few months when there was no fresh content on television.

To be sure, the IPL opening match earlier this month notched up as many as 8.1 million concurrent viewers on Disney+ Hotstar even though the tournament was behind a paywall on the VoD platform. All of this happened organically without Star going aggressive on marketing, experts say.

Moreover, the pricing strategy has been supplemented by a regular supply of content. Streaming platforms have not just capitalized on original shows shot in advance but acquired a bunch of old and new feature films, originally meant for theatrical release. Rates for such acquisitions, especially for big-ticket films like Laxmmi Bomb and Bhuj-The Pride of India have inched towards Rs100 crore.

Media experts see the trend of paid subscriptions sustaining over time. Rajiv Darshi, general manager at media agency MediaCom said habit creation has happened, both in terms of viewership and content creation. Even though movie theatres will bounce back at some point of time, movies will continue to be made for OTT now.

“The move to paid content is a definite one in India," said Siddhartha Roy, chief operating officer of Hungama Digital Media adding that there will be no turning back from this trend even when people step out of home. The market is only opening up with tier-two and tier-three markets still coming into the fold and Internet and smartphone usage growing.

“The point is whether people are satiated by the quality of content that is competing for their time with a host of other things, not whether they are at home or not," Roy said.

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