Streaming shows find market in small towns

  • Video streaming platforms claim that 40-50% of their consumption comes from small towns
  • The number of mobile subscribers in India’s rural areas went up from 499 mn in 2017 to 526 mn in 2018

NEW DELHI : On-demand video streaming is no longer restricted to India’s top cities. Even relatively small towns are taking to video streaming in a big way as smartphones become cheaper, data becomes affordable and content is customized to suit the tastes of their residents.

Sadaf Mirza, a 26-year-old resident of Patna, spends all her day studying for the upcoming civil service examinations in June. But nearly an hour post dinner is devoted to her favourite shows on Netflix, Amazon and ZEE5. Mirza has watched Sacred Games, Love Per Square Foot, Lust Stories, Black Earth Rising and Selection Day on her Samsung mobile phone.

“It’s nice to be able to make your own entertainment choice at the end of the day when there’s no disturbance or distraction," Mirza said. “The episodes are short and I can watch them when I want."

Considered a high-end, urban metro phenomenon for long, video streaming services are now making their way to India’s small towns, with platforms claiming anything between 40-50% of their consumption coming from these areas.

What helps is that foreign content is subtitled and dubbed into multiple Indian languages—even Netflix dubbed its adventure drama Mowgli into Tamil and Telugu, besides Hindi.

Akash Banerji, head of marketing, partnerships and licensing at Voot, said one of the things the company has been increasingly seeing on the Jio phone, which carries the Voot app, is that towns such as Jaipur, Raipur and Bhopal surface on the list of top 10 markets, which never happened earlier.

Voot is the digital arm of media and entertainment company Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd.

“These (homes in smaller towns) are predominantly single television households, which means that the mobile phone is one of the most liberating screens for an individual. With data charges having dropped by over 90% in the last two years and the amount of data available in a specific pack increased by 13-14 times, the biggest consumption has come from these places," said Neeraj Roy, managing director and CEO of Hungama Digital Media that runs the Hungama app.

According to the Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report 2019, mobile subscriber growth in India last year was led by rural areas, where figures went up from 499 million in 2017 to 526 million in 2018. Rural internet subscribers rose from 132 million to 197 million in the same period.

There isn’t much of a difference in the content consumed by their big and small town viewers, especially when it comes to shows in non-Hindi languages such as Tamil and Telugu, said Vishal Maheshwari, India head of Viu, a video streaming service run by Hong Kong-based PCCW Media. Its Telugu original Pelli Gola works across Andhra Pradesh—be it Hyderabad, Vizag or Amalapuram.

Sunil Lulla, group CEO of Balaji Telefilms, said thrillers Apharan and Ragini MMS and romance drama Dil Hi Toh Hai, are some of the most watched shows across Hindi-speaking markets on the ALTBalaji app, 35% of the consumption of which comes from outside the top 50 cities.

“When you’re creating content for a specific target group, the homogeneity of content consumption tends to be very secular. While there may be differences in terms of what the Hindi and Tamil markets would watch, within that geography they tend to watch the same stuff," Maheshwari said. “We are fundamentally trying to appeal to a mindset, not age or geographical set, that has an aspiration and hope everywhere. It doesn’t depend on whether you are in a metro or small town."

Voot’s Banerji said that democratization of technology cannot be limited to just the top eight metros.

“The growth story is only going to come from the small towns. The profile of the first 100 million consumers will be very different from the next 100 million. They are very clearly new users coming in from small towns or rural areas, who add substantial volume to the pie," he said.

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