Struggle in streaming throws up some surprise fighters

Regional language OTT platforms come with the advantage of catering to niche, targeted audiences, among whom reach can be widened relatively easily. (iStockphoto)
Regional language OTT platforms come with the advantage of catering to niche, targeted audiences, among whom reach can be widened relatively easily. (iStockphoto)

Summary

  • Media industry experts said that while local language services such as Hoichoi, Planet Marathi and ShemarooMe can never compete with the budgets and scale of Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar or JioCinema, this is a good time to bolster slates, especially with fiction programming.

New Delhi: Smaller regional language streaming platforms with limited budgets and little access to top talent are rushing to fill the void left by bigger entities, many of whom have slowed down on commissioning new projects.

Media industry experts said that while local language services such as Hoichoi, Planet Marathi and ShemarooMe can never compete with the budgets and scale of Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar or JioCinema, this is a good time to bolster slates, and grab viewer eyeballs, especially with fiction programming.

After Sony Pictures Entertainment called off its merger with Zee Entertainment Enterprises, both are reviewing OTT (over the top or streaming) budgets. Amazon Prime Video takes long to approve projects, and has cancelled some of the 40 titles it had announced in April 2022, while Netflix is bullish on acquiring only big-budget theatrical films. Disney, on the other hand, has slowed ahead of a possible merger with Reliance Industries Ltd.

“This situation is an advantage for non-mainstream OTT platforms with the void (in terms of new content) having been created with impending consolidation in the industry. The turnaround time is less for regional language content, and we don’t chase stars with date hassles, so we can churn out content much faster," Akshay Bardapurkar, founder, Planet Marathi OTT, said.

Bardapurkar added that not many platforms are acquiring content in languages like Marathi, giving companies such as his an edge. “It’s a good time to get noticed," he pointed out.

Rajat Agrawal, director and content syndication head, Ultra Media and Entertainment Group, which operates Ultra Jhakaas, an OTT platform, said that with larger OTT players moderating their pace in approving new titles, this creates an opportunity for niche platforms to step in and cater to specific audiences with tailor-made content, potentially enhancing visibility and fostering greater viewer loyalty among those seeking specialized content.

Ultra Media and Entertainment has launched Café Comedy, the first stand-up comedy special on a Marathi streaming platform. It offers dramas and plays, as also dubbed Hollywood and south Indian films, in Marathi language.

To be sure, regional language OTT platforms come with the advantage of catering to niche, targeted audiences, among whom reach can be widened relatively easily.

Soumya Mukherjee, chief operating officer at Bengali streaming service Hoichoi, said the platform already benefits from a loyal audience base worldwide, and plans to increase its annual output from 26 originals last year to around 30 in 2024. “The market is heading towards consolidation, but we can operate regardless, since we’ve built capability and volume. There is an audience for all kinds of OTT models," Mukherjee said.

Almost half of the original content in 2024 will be created in non-Hindi vernacular languages, thus opening up space for fostering local talent and offering differentiation, said Saurabh Srivastava, chief operating officer, digital business at Shemaroo Entertainment Ltd, which operates ShemarooMe.

“This year reflects a period of rational aggressiveness. Having navigated through a learning curve, we’re now evaluating content choices more rigorously during acquisition or creation. This trend seems to extend across the industry, prioritizing sound business decisions over rapid acquisition," Srivastava added. ShemarooMe specializes in content made in regional languages like Gujarati.

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