Limelight-e4m webinar: 'New normal presents a huge opportunity for OTT platforms'
Thought leaders from the OTT industry shared their views on the changing role of OTT platforms in the new normal
Limelight Networks, in association with exchange4media, hosted a virtual panel discussion on the topic, “Ensuring Viewers an OTT Experience through Quality Digital Content Delivery” on September 30, Wednesday. The panellists for the webinar were Tushar Vohra, Head Technology, ZEE5 India; Lokesh Chauhan, Chief Technology, Eros Now; Shahabuddin Sheikh, Chief Technology Officer, AltBalaji; Amod Oke, Chief Technology Officer, Planet Marathi; Satyajith Divakaran, GM-Digital, MM Tv; Rohit Bapat, GM Technology, Arre; Sourjya Mohanty, Chief Operating Officer, Epic ON; Bharath Katragadda, Head Technology, ETV Bharat and Vijay Narasimhan, Strategic Account Manager, Limelight. The session was chaired by Faisal Kawoosa, Founder & Chief Analyst, techARC.
Starting off the session, Kawoosa remarked on the growing importance of OTT in the internet space, especially during the lockdown. “I think we understood the importance of entertainment, more during the lockdown. And in those days, it was just because of the technologies that you are executing, planning and strategizing that we have been able to leverage whatever we were," he observed.
Kawoosa pointed out that OTT cannot be considered as an "add on" or "over the top" for entertainment. "So if we look at the overall OTT space, I think time has now arrived where it's no more like an additional layer it has now got very much embedded into that internet space. Now the layers are merged. At the same time, the entertainment content consumption behaviour has changed phenomenally over these years, and probably pandemic was one such instance where that got more boost, so to say," he observed.
According to Vohra, entertainment now is not just about the production-ready content, which some production houses are building. Rather, it's about using digital devices to not only consume content but also create them. “We saw the phenomenon that the currently banned Tiktok created a certain point in time. There are a lot of Indian players who are trying to fill up that space during this period. Entertainment has to be brought in where we start calling our applications rather than 'over the top' applications; we should start calling ourselves 'entertainment applications'. There are interaction, identification and engagement. In my opinion, it's no more an OTT play for almost all the players," he said.
Chauhan says that the pandemic has kind of fast-forwarded the journey that we were progressing on two-three years down the line. “Older generation and housewives, who weren’t very tech-savvy, now understand the concept of going online using an app and are able to consume media of their choice. This was something that we believe will happen over a course of time and will require seeding from us," he remarked.
"But the pandemic has kind of pushed it. And thanks to what we say the broadband providers, the mobility partners, even though there was a huge amount of strain on the bandwidth things, it kept on working. So kudos to them as people now are aware, people understand that they can have consumption online, in itself, that has been a paradigm shift and paying for entertainment toward digital medium is now not something which is very limited to allied metros, tier 2- tier 3 are seeing a decent amount of traction. And it's not been a trend, at least for us that while pandemic people were happy being binge-watching. They have continued. It's not like this has been a complete drop-off, obviously, now that cricket is back on the menu, there is a significant amount of viewership junk that cricket takes away. But it's not to the same levels, we have jumped a few levels up where we started off from in the mid-March to late March scenario.”
Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on content and production, Sheikh shared, “I think it's a learning curve. It's one of the fast-forwarding things that we have planned in the future that we wanted to do. Content and production which was badly hit, because every production house, most of us had some content in a pipeline which was in place for a couple of months. I think we survived the months of March and May, post that we had a shortage of content. Now, thanks to lockdown 4 and 5, things changed and we started the production of content. So, overall it's a good learning experience in terms of connecting with people, and remotely working. And thanks to Zoom, a lot of videoconferencing and calls are happening.”
Talking about the changing role of content in the new normal, Oke said, “I would say we are the new kid on the block. During this pandemic, I was more of a consumer than a producer. But I’ll say that most people need engagement, some form of entertainment
every day. This pandemic has shown us that some of us need a source that can distract us from our daily stress and problems. So with that said, as there is just no source of entertainment outside right now, this new normal presents a huge opportunity for all content providers, especially the OTT platforms.”
Divakaran explained how consumers reacted to the pandemic situation and shared that MM Tv has been doing well in terms of numbers. “So we too had started fairly recently. We had started ManoramaMax just in September last year, and overtime had just picked up and with the coming of the pandemic, we were still peaking at that time. And then the content obviously had to change because there was not much content being produced. But at that time we went out and created content from the people sitting at homes, and we entertained audiences that way for about a month and a half, post which we came in with newer shows and stuff. So the peaking is still happening; we've really not phased in long or we've never come down in terms of the numbers as of now.”
Bapat is not convinced that OTT is the new normal quite yet because he believes there's a big chunk of people who still watch regular television. “So the way I look at it is today with cheap smartphones and you know data plans which are easily available and cheap as well. It's obvious that people will consume a lot of data over their mobile phones. So I think in that sense there is a massive opportunity for bundled apps. Now think about somebody like JIO who comes into the market, and your app gets featured on a platform like that for people who aren't too tech-savvy, they will be consuming content of these bundles app so there's a huge opportunity there. Secondly, I feel because data is so easily available and connections are fairly reliable now and getting better, you would find people consuming data on the go a lot more, people travelling on the trains, getting to work in a bus, so on and so forth. But that's only one part of it. I think the bigger question is about whether we can really call it the new normal.”
Elaborating further on the adoption of DTH and wired broadband connections in India, Bapat added, “What about the audience that's outside of tier 1, 2 and 3 cities? I tried to put up numbers for what's the adoption of say DTH in India today. And to round off these numbers to give it some perspective, apparently, there are 70 million DTH connections in India, so that's seven zero, and the number of wired broadband connections is 19. So, they've got a long way to catch up before people start consuming digital content of the Television’s because I still think television can be ritual in India where maybe people watch television together as a family. Maybe they watch it together at dinner time. So until that transformation completely happens. I'm not sure this is taking over as a new normal but absolutely it's only going to grow because I know that your regular cable providers will start providing their content over the internet, soon enough.”
Explaining how the consumption of content has grown recently, Mohanty said, “we have a couple of key takeaways from this complete pandemic situation, one being the key part which is the appetite for consumption of content. I think the appetite for consumption of content, naturally which has grown up, we have seen a lot of content from our OTT platform being consumed, which were not consumed earlier. So the user has been looking for depth. They have been looking for something which is not available in linear or are not available in other apps. So, we always talk about one Sunday and 50 apps. So that's the fight that everybody has to do, you have only one Sunday and you need to choose which app to take, which subscription to buy.
This pandemic situation has sort of given a great amount of choice to the user because work from home, staying at home has given more time and more time means more consumption and that leads to more business. From an MAU perspective, I think we have seen a good upsurge there. And that has given us the confidence to sort of build our own content strategy for the next year. And the second part which I would like to touch upon is the Smart TV. Now Smart TV and connected devices have been the future, and it is going to be the future, with a penetration of 25 million-plus units.”
Speaking about ETV Bharat and how the platform has been catering to users from across the country, Katragadda shared, “At ETV Bharat, we are primarily a news OTT platform. We are also a new kid on the block, probably about more than a year since we have gone live. So what patterns that we have observed is. Nowadays, people want to know the COVID statistics, how this pandemic is taking over the whole world, so the news is watched mostly. Entertainment is one thing, but people are also always on smartphones, looking for new updates on COVID. You know how my state is faring or how my city is faring, so is it safe to go out. So, we have seen a good uptick in the consumption of news. And we operate in 13 different languages, right from Jammu Kashmir to Kanyakumari, we are supporting several languages and states. So, we have definitely seen a good amount of viewers. Now, looking at updates, we made sure that we give them timely updates in terms of notifications. And we have also kept a COVID section on our portal so that once you click on it, we are empowered with infographics, they can zoom in to a particular district and see how many cases are there. So, people have invested a lot of time in our data.”
Narasimhan highlighted how content consumption has increased in the middle-aged section, he said, “We saw the rise of content being consumed across the board. And one of the things that we also learned that it was not as limited to the younger crowd or the people around about 30- 35, and below. The content was consumed even by people in the middle-aged sections where there was a variety of content that was consumed, and each of them, picked their own choices within a single house, we also realised that it's not necessarily that everybody has to stick in front of the television and get themselves entertained by one particular channel or the other, but rather, each person within the house could go into different devices and start consuming. This obviously puts an extensive load on the infrastructure and the intellect.”
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