Regional content, originals to drive OTT consumption in 2018

With India expected to have 530 million smartphone users this year, we look at the dominating video consumption trends

e4m by Madhuwanti Saha
Updated: Jan 15, 2018 8:56 AM

100 smartphone brands catering to a variety of budgets, 300 million users, 234 million local language internet users, and these numbers and consumption patterns in India  are only set to increase manifold. According to a recent report by Google and KPMG, the million local-language internet users will increase by more than 50 per cent. Whereas US-based media agency Zenith predicts that India will have 530 million smartphone users this year.

As per industry estimates, India is expected to reach 84 billion internet video minutes per month by 2021. When it comes to the time spent by each viewer per day, Netflix has around 51 minutes per day, followed by Voot with 50 minutes, Amazon Prime Video with 42 minutes, Hotstar with 33 minutes and Jio TV with 30 minutes, according to media reports. Since these numbers are only going to explode, we look at video consumption trends that will dominate the digital space in 2018:
Proliferation of regional digital content
2017 marked an important year for the regional digital market with established players like Amazon Prime Video India, Sony LIV, Hotstar, Netflix, Viu India and AltBalaji constantly upping their game by bringing content in local languages like Kannada, Marathi, Bengali and Gujarati, in some cases even originals. At present, 45 per cent of OTT users consume content in regional languages, according to media reports. More interestingly there was an emergence of local operators like Hoichoi (Bengali) and Sun Nxt. 2018 will witness players like Voot and Viu prioritising on regional expansion.
Vishal Maheshwari, Country Head, Viu India, says, “The depth and frequency of content release in existing markets on regionals like Tamil and Telugu will go up. One or two more languages will get added into the language basket. You can expect some action maybe to happen in Kannada and Marathi as early as first quarter. More content will be built up for the known markets."
Vishnu Mohta, co-founder, Hoichoi, agreed that the trend is strongly towards regionalisation and that the major chunk of online users are from tier II and tier III cities. He said, “70-80 per cent (subscribers) want to watch content in regional language. The trend towards local content from that perspective is going to be strong in the next couple of years. That's where we come in. Smartphones will become the preferred way of consuming content. We will see a point where are all the regional languages combined will be larger than the Hindi consumption market as it stands today."
Abhishek Joshi, ‎Vice President & Head - Marketing, Analytics & Content Syndication - Digital Business - ‎Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN), said, “As per IAMAI India Internet report, Hindi content consumption has grown 5X that of English content consumption and 43 per cent of internet users are non-English, which is estimated to grow to 62 per cent by 2020.”

Scaling up of original content

According to industry experts, 2018 is the year for the ‘underexposed original content’ which would be targeted to a specific audience. Most of the players will be focusing on it. Case in point is Amazon Prime Video which gearing up for the launch of its new original ‘Breathe’.“The growth over there is going to far outstrip what anybody has actually imagined. And, it’s going to happen across genres” added Maheshwari. With originals giving creators the flexibility to experiment with content and formats, 2018 will definitely see heavy development on this front, he feels.
Mohta points out that people will want to pay for differentiated content in long form despite the fact that differentiation is hard to build on. Hoichoi will be producing two to three shows every month to ramp up the content library. “By the end of 2018 we will have 100 hours of original content,” he said.
Similarly, Voot will work towards expanding its audience base across regional languages (Tamil, Kannada, Bengali and Marathi) and markets. The content focus will include Voot Regional Originals.
Rajiv Vaidya, CEO, Spuul, said, “Also, in 2018, Indian audience will see a lot of firsts, there will be a variety of original content never seen before in India through OTT. The success of these will determine the future of the content mix on OTT.”
But quality of content on OTT is still a question mark. 
On that note, Ashwin  Suresh of Pocket Aces pointed out, “The best original content with highest engagement and watch time will still be produced by new-media companies like Pocket Aces (Dice Media) TVF, etc. and distributed on mass platforms like YouTube and Facebook.”
Content getting traction
Industry view is that there will be significant boost in snackable content and new content formats, not only in Hindi but a lot more in regional languages. However, Maheshwari added, “The average of availability of access to internet has grown exponentially. What is short has actually changed a lot. All of this can only be catered through original content.”
Mohta feels there is space for every type of content, be it catch-up TV, movies, long and short videos, web series, and other digital programming options. He added “People will be willing to pay for some content, some they won’t. As far as content creation is concerned, irrespective of duration and format, lot of experimentation will continue to happen, which is good for the industry.”
Suresh added, “Snackable and short form continue will continue to dominate social distribution because it can be consumed at any time in the day and across any major platforms.” Also he is of the opinion that catch-up TV will continue to do well as long as TV has an audience. “Genre-based content channels like Gobble will continue to grow. Music, lifestyle, fitness and food among others are expensive for traditional mediums and so will continue to shift online,” he said.
However, Vaidya gave a word caution, “Given the size of the Indian market and competition, each platform will have to find its niche i.e target audience, distribution and content mix, and this would be more clearly visible in 2018.”
Co-existence of SVOD, AVOD and freemium
Looking at the Indian consumer’s spending habits and the demographics, it’s safe to assume that there will be space for Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) players like Amazon, Netflix and Spuul, advertising-led Voot and freemium (part free, part paid) model adopters like Hotstar and Viu relying on factors like competitive pricing and distinctive content to distinguish themselves.  Joshi is of the opinion that freemium might sail through. He reasoned, “This is because no matter which part of the world you stay in, if you are Indian you (first) want your free content (which is ad supported) and if you enjoy the service, then one might end up subscribing. It also depends on the premiumness of the content behind the paywall.” Voot getting into subscription mid-2018 is a case in point. However, Suresh feels that the trend is to pay for a short time frame to watch a specific piece of content or a specific show but that there is no stickiness to it.
Vaidya sums it up as he said, “Any SVOD, AVOD or  freemium model that caters to a set of consumers’ interest, genres and taps their entertainment needs at that moment, will work.”

Domination of Facebook and YouTube
With Facebook and YouTube’s consumption comprising of 47 and 42 per cent respectively, around 11 per cent belongs to OTT players like Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Jio TV, and Voot among others. The average Indian user reportedly watches 8.5 hours of video content every month on Facebook and YouTube put together.
Joshi believes that Facebook has created an audience for itself which has eaten into YouTube’s share. “Marketers and content creators are starting to realise that there is more value in publishing a video directly to Facebook than there is to uploading it on YouTube alone. Part of that benefit is that videos on Facebook automatically play as a user scrolls through the news feed,” he said.

Branded content getting prominence

The previous two years saw brands from across categories like FMCG, retail, delving into content, experimenting with both short and long format. Examples include TVF Timeliner’s ‘The Aam Aadmi Family Season 2’ and Dice Media’s ‘What the Folks’ which were sprinkled by appearance of brands such as Nerolac Paints, Greek Yogurt brand Epigamia, and self-drive car rental e-commerce player, Zoomcar respectively. The biggest example is also Bigg Boss.
2018 will see a similar trend with branded content partnerships doing the rounds, according to Vaidya. Suresh predicts a shift of ad spends to native and sponsored over time. He added, “Brands will sponsor content and use product integrations effectively to maximize ROI on their marketing dollars.”

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