More Indians today are signing up for video over-the-top (OTT) platforms, thanks to the pandemic forcing more and more people to stay indoors. “The acceptance of OTT as a mainstream channel is heartening. Before the pandemic, it was just a layer of entertainment. There is a huge market opportunity for us now,” says Divya Dixit, senior vice president, marketing and revenue, AltBalaji.

Content and pricing are typically the two drivers of the OTT business. Over the years, firms have been experimenting with both to get more users onto their platforms. Now, with the pandemic boosting OTT consumption manifold, brands are aggressively crafting plans to widen their content mix and cater to a diverse set of audience. “Consumers are selecting their own choice of content. That I think is a huge shift in mindset,” says Gourav Rakshit, chief operating officer, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, which owns Voot and Voot Select.

While companies are focussing on regional content, especially Originals, to grab eyeballs, another trend that is gaining traction is of family-oriented shows.

“We want to focus on family entertainment,” says Manish Kalra, chief business officer, ZEE5 India. He believes consumers’ appetite for fresh content presents wide-ranging opportunities for OTT platforms to experiment with new, differentiated and unique themes and formats.

AltBalaji also plans to come up with new shows to cater to the family segment. “Our content strategy will be running on parallel tracks — one will be inclusive, targetting families who are sitting together to enjoy Originals, and the other will be individual, where a viewer can continue to choose what he or she prefers to watch alone,” says Dixit.

Netflix, which recently slashed prices, is sharpening its family entertainment play as well. “Whether you are planning to watch with your family or just on your own, there will be something for everyone on Netflix,” says a company spokesperson.

About 2.9 crore subscribers paid for 5.3 crore OTT video subscriptions in 2020 (excluding subscriptions bundled with data plans). The number is estimated to go up to 3.9 crore subscribers and 7.1 crore subscriptions by the end of 2021, according to a FICCI-EY report published earlier this year. During 2021-25, total content investments by OTT players are expected to touch ₹30,000 crore. “To retain users, you need to have a very deep content strategy. While marquee series and big movies are acquisition drivers for platforms, smaller shows and movies are absolutely essential for retention,” says Viacom18’s Rakshit.

Having an expansive bouquet of regional content is critical to gaining consumers in Tier-II cities and beyond, and companies are banking on them to power the next phase of growth. In fact, players, including ZEE5 and Voot Select, which have the benefit of tapping into their satellite networks, already claim to have a considerable presence in those areas. Nearly 50% of ZEE5’s viewership comes from regional content — Tamil, Telugu and Bengali — and the company plans to earmark 30-40% of its total investments towards the same in 2022, says Kalra.

Voot Select will focus on Marathi and Kannada, while broadening its play in more Southern markets. The company plans to roll out 20-24 original series per market. “Average consumption on our platform is 50 minutes per user per day, which is ahead of most platforms,” says Rakshit.

Disney+Hotstar recently announced its foray into the Telugu originals space with the launch of web series Parampara. “We are increasing our local content offerings in Asia, India, Europe, and Latin America in fiscal 2022, with the majority of those titles also releasing in the back part of the year,” Christine McCarthy, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer, The Walt Disney Company, said during the company’s Q4FY21 earnings call last month.

Netflix, on the other hand, is lining up a diverse slate of content spanning genres and languages for its viewers in the coming year. “We have some big titles coming up starting this month and all through 2022,” according to a company spokesperson. The Los Gatos-based company has been trying hard to win price-sensitive Indians by introducing cheaper pricing and aggressively pushing more regional content onto the platform. It recently reduced its mobile pack pricing to ₹149 per month and minimum pricing to ₹199 per month. Along With Disney+Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video, it has cornered the bulk of the direct-to-digital movies market this year.

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