India is a large country with about 1.34 billion population. It is one of the youngest nations globally, with over 65% of the population below 35 and 29 on average. Moreover, there is an obsession and fetish for entertainment, thanks to such demography.
The country’s media and entertainment sector have a valuation of approximately 1.82 trillion INR, with about 11.8% CAGR in 2019. The global rate of space is around 4.2% CAGR.
OTT, or over-the-top, is s streaming media service that provides the content to viewers online via the internet. Over the past decade, the industry has come miles while disrupting the traditional tv model. It has entirely remodeled the way people gobble media and entertainment content.
According to the latest EY-FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Report, digital streaming platforms crossed film entertainment to rank the third-largest Media and Entertainment Sector in 2019, India. With the rapid arrival of streaming services, OTT platforms are considered India’s Media and Entertainment industry’s future.
The lockdown resultant of the COVID-19 pandemic further hastened the growth of the already booming space. The closure of cinema halls led the OTT platforms to emerge as the new big screen.
“They are global businesses and have the financial clout and deep pockets. But it is a fact that the magic of cinema is lost on the small screen. We are hoping as we open, people will come back to the cinemas, attracted by the entire movie-watching experience on the silver screen.”
– Siddharth Jain, executive director at INOX (1).
Nevertheless, the charm and experience of the 70mm would remain in India, and people would return to the big screen as soon as the cure for the novel coronavirus is out, and things fall back to normal. However, there is no denying that unprecedented circumstances have led to a complete revamp of the country’s OTT business.
If five years ago, someone would have stated that they have a subscription for Netflix or Amazon Video would have come as a surprise. However, now the scenario is reversed. That’s the growth of the OTT platform in the country. It is safe to state that the credit for the growth of the entertainment sector goes to OTT.
At present, the OTT platform’s valuation stands at 35 billion INR, with nearly 500 million internet users, expected to grow at 8% per year. Notably, they spend an average of 40 mins every day engrossing content on online media.
“What the lockdown has done is to accelerate the success of OTT platforms. Their popularity began much before the lockdown. What the lockdown has achieved is to get even the older generations hooked on to these platforms. They have been able to widen their fan base.”
– Sircar (2).
Estimates suggest that India would be the number one country for revenue or valuation of digital and OTT media content by 2022.
OTT is a subset of digital means and gaining drive with smartphone users’ rise hooked onto cheap data. It is worth mentioning that the phenomenon has only just begun. With the digital revolution, the platform is bound to grow by advances and breakthroughs.
The vast consumer base favors content available on the go and are enthusiastic by its abundance availability.
Despite the rapid rise of the OTT platform in India, the cord-cutting is not happening any time soon. The television medium still has a long way before de-escalating. It is most likely for India to witness both TV and OTT’s growth adjacent to each other.
There is a trend emerging where more numbers of families are opting for Smart TVs. It is a chance for OTT platforms to attract more customers. Previously, people considered OTT a platform that entertains smartphone users who wish to devour content in their confined and happy space. However, at present, OTT platforms have more acceptance and growing popularity. Hence, now the TV can play an extensive amount of content, be it OTT offerings, cable TV, or videos.
Till now, only urban areas across the country have observed digital penetration. However, in the foreseeable future, tier 2, 3, and 4 cities and towns are likely to observe the next wave of growth in OTT consumption. Notably, the creators are also offering a lot of content in regional languages, and there is no shortage of takers.
The Rise in OTT Platforms Popularity
Many factors can contribute to the immense popularity of OTT platforms among the audience. It includes cheaper data, variable pricing models as per the budget of different users, the premium content quality, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moreover, according to today’s youth, traditional TV channels fail at delivering quality content. They don’t find the aired shows according to their liking as they do not fit into their entertainment model.
On the other hand, the OTT platforms offer shows and movies that are more radical, relatable and thought-provoking for the current generation. As a result, people are starting to incline more towards these streaming platforms, with many unsubscribing from their DTH supplier. Considering the situation, some DTH suppliers have dispatched the devoted platforms, which empowered users to get all OTT platforms in a single spot.
At present, a large sum of OTT content spins around stories that cohere with reality. About twenty years ago, creators used to set stories abroad to attract more views. However, if one takes a more substantial look at the content ran in the past three to four years, it would become evident that they are mostly based on India’s small towns and cities.
“The first major advantage of OTT platforms is that your work reaches a wide audience. Secondly, such platforms are an advantage for writers more than for actors.”
– Arjun Mathur (3).
More viewers are attracted to stories written around Bhopal, Kota, Agra, and Kanpur since they want to explore characters’ actions that reflect reality. The OTT platforms emerged as personal time, and at this time, viewers want to watch real stuff, even if it is too dark. The content dynamics of the OTT platforms have and will shape because of this storytelling art. Thus, the content of the OTT platforms lies somewhere between films and TV.
What Led to This Growth?
The Indian OTT industry is loaded with both local and international players and heavy competition. The next revolution on the OTT is about getting the upper hand in both revenues and market share in the Indian market.
It includes traditional media streaming firms, platforms of TV channels, and production houses. Some of the industry’s dominant players include Hotstart, with more than 300 million active users, ZEE5 with 60 million active users, Amazon Prime with 13 million active users, and Netflix with 11 million active users.
Over time, all these companies have understood the preferences of the Indian audience. They have made massive investments in high-quality, diverse, and original content, focusing on a mix of sports, shows, and movies in different regional tounges. It has significantly attributed to their success and linear growth in the industry.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has plundered the business and industries across the world. The media and entertainment are among the worst affected sectors, with approximately 25000 crore INR losses in the country since it relies massively on ads spend and groundwork.
However, even in this nerve-racking experience, it had found respite, if any, via the OTT platforms. With the Millenials confined in their homes because of the lockdown, there was a surge in demand for quality and diverse content. There was also a subsequent emergence in the subscription and revenues for these platforms.
Movie production houses were also left with no option but to look at OTT platforms for their film release with cinema halls and malls closed for almost four months. Several high-profile movies such as Angrezi Medium, Gulabo Sitabo, Penguin, etc. had an immediate release on these platforms.
“The smaller movies, the more independent cinema, which would have seen theatrical release before the lockdowns, will find a home on OTT platforms. Top actors don’t want their films to release on OTT directly even now.”
– Komal Nahta (4).
Almost every business is going virtual and trying to have their digital presence, thanks to the pandemic’s disruption. The shift towards digital and quality content is evident that copywriters and content strategists have replaced the ad executives and marketing consultants.
It would be interesting to see how the production houses and OTT platforms would re-strategize their content models and distribution. Some state governments have announced movie screens in the cinema halls and malls with social distancing measures.
High Competition in the OTT Industry
The Indian market has responded to both local and foreign OTT platforms with open arms thanks to cheap data, smartphones, and easy access to digital services.
At the moment, the Indian OTT industry is open to competition. Several local players have established their audience, while major platforms based in the US are trying to replicate the same domination in India that they have in other western countries. The development came when every entity realized the value of content to reach the audience in the segment.
Consequently, the stock of high-quality content has never been higher. From industry giants and venture capitals, everyone is looking for a path to become a part of the content business. The surge in the OTT industry’s valuation is flashing hints of a young industry about to explode.
The competition between different players has been great for consumers since they could watch diverse, high-quality content at a cheaper rate. Artists are also getting benefits from the trend. Previously, only TV and movies were the mediums for artists. However, the rise of digital content has opened previously unseen opportunities.
“OTT is a reflection of the golden Doordarshan era. It gives people more scope to do what they want. It has given a platform to artists who could not get into films. It has revived careers and brought the potential to the forefront”
– Rajesh Thadani (5).
According to the recent statistics, the average time spent by Indian OTT subscribers has increased from 20 to 50 minutes to at least one hour recently. They have more than 40 OTT platforms to choose from to watch their favorite shows or catch the latest movies on their handset as long as they have an internet connection.
OTT: The Need of The Hour
OTT seems to be the new normal for the entertainment world with the extended lockdowns and the present state of the economy. For months, films bore the burnt of cinema hall closure along with numerous on-going projects on hold.
As the live events, shoots, and movie premiers are halted, the pandemic’s only silver lining is the rise of OTT’s popularity. The pause in productions may have dried up the content line; however, the steaming is not stopped across the country, thanks to OTT platforms.
Many of us question the source of revenue for these platforms. However, the answer is quite simple. A significant part of their income comes from user subscriptions, and they also make money from ads.
OTTs are into the entertainment business for as long as they have the support of their subscribers. At present, most of the OTT platforms are in the investment phase. Distinctly, the digital OTT segment is standing today, where the TV was 25 years ago.
Highlighting a critical fact is that most OTT platforms spend a lot of money gaining the movies’ rights and shows not produced in-house. Hence, they can not report any returns on investment or cash profits.
They are working on a negative cash flow only to make profits when they get user subscriptions. Consequently, a trend is rising among lesser-known OTT platforms to produce shows in-house like stand-up specials and original web-series, instead of buying rights of other movies and shows.
On the flip side, their business can thrive in the next decade by retaining present subscribers and reaching out to new ones. Hence, it becomes necessary for all platforms to study their audience viewing habits.
“The diversity of content is what is keeping audiences engrossed, and it will keep them there”
– Vikramaditya Motwane (6).
The study would help the platform know its consumers’ tastes and preferences, helping them create new and relevant content to stay in business.
OTT and Bollywood
OTT maybe a new technology for the world, but India is a social transformation since India is all about Bollywood. No nation across the globe has movies as the society’s main stem as much as India.
Bollywood has been people’s voice, dream, and aspiration. It means that when you change Bollywood, you change the society of the country. It also makes Bollywood a weak-link for India since the small domain is easy to control, yet it has great power and impact over Indian society.
In earlier days, when real business people funded Bollywood, stories mattered. However, after the arrival of the open market and expansion of India’s economy, everything changed.
Bollywood found an entirely new crop of “superstars” as the underworld tool control of Mumbai. In the post-liberation period, Bollywood transformed from art to business and created specific personal to cover the most important bases. For example, Shahrukh Khan for romance, Salman Khan for action, and Amir Khan for intelligence.
After the shift, Bollywood started subtly manipulating Indian society. It reduced India into a melodramatic parody thanks to movies by these “superstars” while pushing the alternative to the cinema to the sidetrack.
While Bollywood did control the nation’s mood because of its unique power and position augmented by these superstars, it has become evident that time is changing.
The arrival of the OTT platforms is a resurrection for the Indian movie industry and Indian society.
No matter how far-fetch it sounds, there is no denying that Bollywood is one of the nation’s jugular veins, and releasing it from the superstar phenomenon would mean a lot for India.
Bollywood: The Biggest Frontier for OTT
The changes brought by OTT is already evident. The superstar culture has taken a hit as we see no powerful actors in any camp or pushing agendas to mushroom everywhere. It means that the Indian audience would now be able to hear a newer and more accurate series.
With the arrival of OTT platforms, a superstar will no longer hold a story as a hostage. The time is now gone, where movies portrayed an underworld goon as a kind-hearted community leader or hero because a superstar feels that way.
It would make a clear shift in what masses would get to watch and appreciate, hopefully.
The remote control is now in the hands of the masses, thanks to OTT platforms. Hence there will be a restoration of eternal truth and storytelling.
“We want a robust slate of stories that are differentiated and suited to the different moods of our members. Sometimes, you want to lean back and watch a delightful comedy, and at other times, you want to enjoy a pulse-pounding thriller that takes you to the edge of your seats”
– Aashish Singh (7).
At the moment, Bollywood is one of the most significant frontier fighting the war. It’s time for us to hope that it’s real India that wins and not the reel.
Rise of Disruption
However, the question remains whether OTT platforms would disrupt the Indian film industry or not.
The movie business is changing at a rapid pace. Only a few years back, if a movie business executive had stated that shortly, most significant stars would drop their studio commitments to make masala movies to work on long, complicated plot movies with dark themes, people might have thought him absurd.
However, it is the reality of today. The power has changed from big stars and studios as top dogs to good scripts and inventive producers and directors.
Previously, big studios acquired star fronted movies, but these days, producers are raising funds from new players to start a new project. Good stories are the heroes of the new business model.
“What we have been talking about for years… that script and content is king, is becoming the truth now with the advent of OTT. If you see some of the big films, Uri: The Surgical Strike, Badhai Ho, etc., content-based films are working.”
– Karan Bedi (8).
Moreover, the superstars are also losing their selling power and their touch thanks to the availability of new and right talent across the industry and democratization of skill. Finally, the grip of Troika of Khans – Amir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Salman Khan, who ruled the box office for over 20 years, are losing. Last year, all of them failed.
The Indian market is far from saturating when it comes to entertainment. The rise in user base and digital ads indicate a bright future for OTT platforms. However, it would be defined by quality and diverse content. It means that platforms that can consistently create quality content would beat others in the market.
“It’s crowded out there. But you have to make something clutter-breaking. People may like it or be offended, but it has to be a show where they say, ‘Have you seen Paatal Lok?’ It is what sells on OTT,”
– Vikramaditya Motwane (9).
Several research pieces suggest that even in the post-COVID-19 world, OTT platforms would keep dominating the market. Therefore, it’s time for investors to think about technology integration.
Moreover, OTT channels can also reduce the piracy threat for production houses in India. The necessity of piracy can be removed with the mass availability of the content.
Production houses are likely to realize soon that the OTT is not the opponent but an ally. The film industry would only be able to survive in the upcoming normal by integrating with new technology.
Thanks to OTT platforms, we may not have to wait for Friday, as the Bollywood tradition since the production houses can release new content almost every day across one or more platforms.