The altering behaviour and preferences of consumers are propelling changes within OTT service models.
By Priyal Pandey
Modest smartphone prices and availability of affordable internet have rendered Video-on-Demand (VoD) and Over-the-Top media services (OTT) an ideal medium, in the palm of one’s hand, to absorb localised content across an array of platforms. Though telecommuting, zoom conference calls and physical distancing are dotting the current landscape, the old normal is still dominated by long working hours and chaotic work-life balances. From Uber drivers to working professionals living and struggling in metropolitan cities, the extended commuting time or the current lockdowns are providing an escape route to indulge in the luxury of viewing and absorbing content. Entertainment screens are becoming mobile, handy and affordably convenient — offering a plethora of content choice. To meet the demand and expectations of these new, emerging segments — showcasing vernacular content appears as the obvious choice.
Cyber consumption and culture
The number of Internet users is projected to escalate from 481 million to 762 million by 2022, as per the Internet and Mobile Association of India. A major motivation behind the upsurge is due to the reduction in 4G mobile data tariffs, after the launch of Jio in 2015. The availability of easy, faster and widespread internet has positively influenced the demand for smartphones. India is home to the fastest-growing smartphone market in the world, which is expected to double from 468 million to 859 million users by 2022, according to a joint study by ASSOCHAM-PwC. Internet as a facility and smartphone as a medium holds the foundation for the sustenance of the VoD industry. Hence, reliance on smartphones and faster internet acts as a catalyst for expansion by instilling this industry as the prime source of entertainment.
OTT platforms are now curating their subscription policies keeping in mind the consumer’s economic background and device preferences. According to a research by Analysys Mason, Indian smartphone users download an average of 8.5 gigabytes (GB) of data a month which amounts to more than 40 hours of video on small-screen devices. This makes India the world’s largest data consuming country, with consumption rates higher than the US and China put together. A similar report by Boston Consulting Report highlights the consumption and viewership increase on smartphones by 11% in a year. Hence, it is predicted in the report ‘Entertainment Goes Online’, video streaming is expected to consume 75% of mobile internet by 2021 in contrast to 50% and lower in 2015. Data reveals that half of the television and video viewing takes place on smaller screens (smartphones, tablets and laptops), witnessing an increase of 85% since 2010 and smartphones alone have seen an increase of 160%. Unsurprisingly, most consumers favour smartphones as the preferred medium for VoD content. Importantly, entertainment consumption on VoD is more of an individual experience than being a collective activity. Hence, phone and laptop screens are ideal for fast-paced chaotic urban cities.
The altering behaviour and preferences of consumers are propelling changes within OTT service models. To avail the benefit of growing smartphones and internet usage, Netflix India introduced a ‘Netflix Mobile-only Plan’ allowing users to access content through a smartphone for Rs 199, approximately $3. This cheaper mobile-only subscription attracted a bigger audience for the platform, garnered huge success and witnessed an increase in its revenues better than expected.
Vernacular content and its outreach to rural India
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proposed an allocation of Rs 6,000 crore for the expansion of BharatNet. This unique endeavour to enable deeper internet penetration will allow the VoD industry to introduce digital content to an untapped rural audience. Currently, figures boasting the emergence of digitised India are primarily led by the urban masses, and by 2023, 650 million that is, 48% of internet users will hail from rural areas. Hence, such government schemes, along with the availability of cheap data plans, will ensure an upsurge in the consumption of regional language content streaming, along with other audio and video products offered on OTT platforms. According to the ICUBETM report released by Kantar IMRB, Bihar is already witnessing an increase in internet users from 9% in 2015 to 25% in 2018; registering an overall growth of 35%.
To meet the demand and expectations of these new, emerging segments, showcasing vernacular content appears as the obvious choice. To establish their brand and to amalgamate instant viewership, key players like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Zee Café, focused on creating local content with mainstream film actors. Along with showcasing internationally popular shows and acquiring pre-released content, these platforms started producing originals to penetrate into mass centers and small towns. Though English content dominated these platforms, it posed a big disconnect with the diverse Indian audience. Hence, vernacular content — due to its simplicity, accessibility to the majority, promoting authentic storytelling by being locally embedded — would leave a longer imprint on the impressionable audience. That is, why Netflix plans to spend Rs 3,000 crores on creating local content in India.
The recent report by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) and Nielsen highlights the escalation in content consumption through TV and smartphone during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the upsurge in viewership by 12%, original content has seen an escalation of 32% per user and overall by 123%. Indian originals comprise a variety of Hindi and vernacular language content like the recently released ‘She’ on Netflix, ‘Asur’ in Voot, etc. Even during lockdowns and availability of limited content, the non-original series has declined by 21%, emphasising the preference of consumers for vernacular content. Simultaneously, time spent on smartphones is witnessing an increase of 6.2% per user, roughly translating to 1.5 hours and more.
According to the report, Vernacular is now, not the future, 80% of the monetisable audience, with annual spending of $300, indicated a preference for vernacular, rather than English, content. After Hindi content, Telugu has the highest subscription, increasing from 16 million to 166 million subscribers in two years, witnessing a growth of 937.5%, based on which Amazon Prime released its first vernacular series in Telugu, with another one in the pipeline. The demand for vernacular content has also led to the development of the Bangla origin streaming app HoiChoi, which features 30 new shows, 12 original films and an acquisition of around two hundred Bengali titles. This showcases that affordable smartphones, cheaper internet and local content will allow OTT platforms to make inroads into both rural and urban locations, including small towns.
With the growing success of the (OTT) platforms, many online retail stores and aggregators are now opting for VoD services on their platforms primarily to increase traffic, visibility and improve retainability or ‘hooking’ of consumers to their websites. This is resulting in improved audience engagement, diversified the business models and establishment of a competitive online entertainment market. Online behemoth Amazon, a pioneer of this strategy, was followed by Walmart-Flipkart which has announced free of cost, curated and personalised video content. Food and restaurant aggregator Zomato is the latest to jump on this bandwagon and has released original short video content on its app.
It is unjust to refer to OTT as a developing, growing and instilling industry. The imposition of lockdowns and physical distancing during COVID-19 has resulted in an upsurge in viewership and consumption of VoD and OTT platforms. The dominance enjoyed by OTT industry, leveraged through smart usage of smartphones and vernacular content, consolidates its candidature as a leading contender in the digital media and entertainment landscape, and in possibly booting out traditional broadcasters in the country.