Premium over-the-top (OTT) platform Lionsgate Play, one of the newest entrants in the streaming space in India, wants to develop and produce a diverse slate of high-budget premium originals from India. Backed by the American cable and satellite television network Starz, the OTT player is eyeing to expand its global footprint into fresh markets and is scaling itself to become one of the most widely distributed and fastest-growing premium OTT platforms worldwide.

Starz first launched internationally with its Starzplay premium streaming platform in 2018 and is now available in 55 countries, including Europe, Latin America, Canada, Japan, India, the Middle East, and North Africa.

In India, Lionsgate Play has tied up with Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel, Jio FTTH, Apple TV+, Amazon Firestick, etc.

But India is a huge market and not an easy one to crack. Lionsgate's Rohit Jain agrees. “There are only two-three big players with premium content in India. In most markets seven to 10 premium platforms are present. For example, in the U.S. there is Disney, Starz, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Peacock, Hulu, Apple, etc. In this regard, India is an underserved market. Most of these players are a family offering,” says Jain, who is the managing director, south Asia and networks, Lionsgate.

Jain's main aim at the moment is to acquire highly curated and best-in-class content from across the world to target the young-adults of the country. “We have curated our content from global giants like BBC, Lionsgate, ITV, Endeavour. This sort of range of content and proposition is only possible to do for someone of our scale and pedigree. While we are the world’s largest library, research tells us that the biggest consumer problem in the OTT world today is the decision-making process,” he points out.

Lionsgate's biggest challenge, however, will be to crack the price-sensitive nature of the Indian market. In India, most premium platforms are priced between ₹299-600 a month. But Lionsgate stands out with a monthly price of ₹99. “We have kept a very attractive annual offer as a lot of consumers in India prefer a good saving on the annual offer, keeping that in mind we have opened a new price bracket for the Indian consumers. We intend to make premium content available at a very attractive price point,” he says.

But how does Lionsgate decide what will work for the Indian audience, which is largely heterogeneous in nature. Jain explains that until now, there was a common perception that Indian audiences made their choices based on the big star cast in the movie. “However, the pandemic has proved this theory wrong. Now they have transitioned to quality content over big names,” he says.

Another factor that Lionsgate Play is actively addressing is breaching the language barrier in India. “Indians in some parts of the country were deprived of the English content due to language barrier, accessibility, and limited choices. With Lionsgate Play, the audience gets to choose their preferred language to watch the content," Jain argues.

India's explosive growth in OTT subscriptions is evident from the fact that the number of OTT providers in India have jumped from just nine in 2012 to close to 40 now, with most of them now betting big on regional content. This could mean a bigger challenge for players like Lionsgate.

“Not at all,” disagrees Jain. he points out that their Hollywood library is already available to stream in Indian languages. “We [are] seeing a great response for this content as Indians love to watch Hollywood in their own languages. We are already in the process of developing our slate of Indian originals. Our focus is on writers more than finding the best makers,” he says. To serve this end, Lionsgate has roped in creators like Kunal Kohli, Akarsh Khurana, Mukesh Bhatt, and actor Anil Kapoor for India originals.

India’s OTT market India is growing the fastest at 28.6% CAGR and is expected to overtake South Korea, Germany, and Australia and become the sixth-largest market in 2024. According to PwC's Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2020–2024, OTT video market is touted to grow at 5.2% in the next four years, dwarfing cinema, which stands at a meagre 2.8%.

Jain feels that traditional TV and OTT streaming services will coexist. “Video-on-demand may become conventional, however, simultaneously, TV will also remain significant, especially live content like sports and major events which will maintain the high importance of traditional television,” he argues.

He further reasons that, going forward, OTT platforms may opt for dual release strategy which is “releasing in cinema halls and on OTT platforms at the same time, as we still don’t know how long it will take for people to get vaccinated and feel safe enough to return to movie theaters.”

Jain, however, does believe that the loss in footprints that multiplexes and movie theatres have been experiencing now might not be a permanent trend. He points out that once this pandemic is over, people would definitely want to socialise and watch movies on the big screen, an experience which is unparalleled.

But this is not all. Although in India, Jio has added a ballast to internet penetration, large parts of the country are still plagued by patchy internet connections.

To improve accessibility in India, Lionsgate has dedicated two tech hubs for backend support in Denver, Colorado, the U.S. and in the Middle East. These two tech hubs would ensure that the Indian audiences get the right quality at the lowest bandwidth possible. “In the last few years, bandwidth has really improved, and Indians have been able to access good quality internet on mobile devices,” he says.

Jain argues that his next big task is to simplify the answer to the question: how do I find what to watch next? And to achieve that, tech innovation will always be a priority for him.

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