New Delhi: Video streaming platforms that have long capitalized on the absence of a regulatory mechanism for themselves, of the kind that exists for film and television, have seen big gains from adult and explicit content during the covid-19 lockdown.
According to a report by news portal LetsOTT, VoD service MX Player notched up the highest single-day streams (11 million) for its adult comedy Mastram this July. ALTBalaji, the OTT service owned by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms, that reported 60% rise in viewership and a 21% spike in monthly active users (MAUs) in May 2020 as compared to the same period last year, lists erotic horror show Ragini MMS Returns as one of its most popular offerings. Further, Netflix's erotic thriller Fatal Affair emerged as its most watched movie last week, replacing Charlize Theron's The Old Guard, according to a Forbes report. A recent report by media consulting firm Ormax that lists top Indian OTT franchises, whose subsequent seasons are being looked forward to, ranks crime thrillers Mirzapur (Amazon Prime Video) and Sacred Games (Netflix), both dotted with violence and explicit language, at number two and three respectively. Another Ormax listing for top OTT shows in India for the first week of July lists Amazon’s sex comedy Rasbhari at number six.
Media and entertainment industry experts say the appeal of explicit content goes back a long way but the interest in India is exaggerated because we don’t really have the kind of variety that exists in the marketplace globally. For one, most international and domestic porn sites are banned here though some became accessible at the beginning of the covid lockdown. There are only a handful of web portals such as Ullu that stream adult content. It helps that most OTT content in India is viewed on the phone, making for private, individualistic viewing.
“The sense of accessibility is new. Plus the OTT audience in the country is split in favour of males in an almost 65:35 ratio," said Sanjeev Lamba, executive producer, Hungama Originals at Hungama Digital Media that runs audio and video streaming apps. In that sense, sensational and erotic content makes for a good draw but the heightened interest will eventually level out, he believes.
Consumption of such content is driven by tier-two and tier-three towns, explained Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO, Ormax, where there is higher demand for Indian erotica because of lesser exposure to international content of this nature.
“Shows like Gandii Baat ( a series of erotic-themed stories from rural India on ALTBalaji) and Mastram get a significant proportion of their viewership from these markets, such as small towns in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and so on. The overall OTT originals category has grown during the lockdown, and erotic content, in particular, would have reported even higher growth because of lesser opportunities to date and socialise, with watching erotica being a substitute to actual dating and sex," Kapoor said.
Karan Bedi, CEO, MX Player said content consumption across all non TV categories shot up during the lockdown and shows such as Queen, Times of Music, Ek Thi Begum, Bhaukaal and Mastram represent the vast diversity of its video content library.
The next level of OTT growth in India will come from small towns and regional language markets, industry experts say, making sure that erotic content continues to prosper. Notwithstanding the lack of clarity from the government on the kind of regulation that OTT services may have to brace themselves for. Earlier this month, senior officials of the I&B ministry said OTT providers have been asked to come up with a self-regulatory mechanism.
“For platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which have big-budget shows and international content, this genre may not be very lucrative, but for other platforms, this can be a viewership driver with affordable mass pricing, as such content is not expensive to produce, you don't need big stars or fancy locations," Kapoor said.