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Competition among OTT apps intensifies for viewers seeking HQ English content

With JioCinema forging content deals with Warner, HBO and NBCUniversal, media and entertainment industry experts say the competition has turned intense for premium, English language content offerings in India.

These platforms specifically target and cater to discerning viewers who are willing to pay a premium for quality content. While Disney’s original and Marvel game content remains strong, Netflix is known for launching international originals. Even niche services such as MUBI are stepping up their game in India.

To be sure, while Disney, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sony have the advantage of a global parent, others such as Jio have to bear an acquisition cost.

“Audiences on the top end of the pyramid are well exposed to international content and look at new releases from across the world. These are people who are happy to pay for great international programming and any OTT would love to have them on board,” Saugata Mukherjee, head of content, SonyLIV said. He said there is much more competition among OTT platforms currently to acquire international content and the popularity of the genre is evident in the box office successes of Hollywood films in theatres which tend to frequently outperform Hindi releases.

While tentpole movie titles are often dubbed in local languages for the service, web series are viewed in their original format.

Svetlana Naudiyal, programming director, Asia, MUBI agreed that there is a strong appetite for good quality international and English language films in India. “We are seeing audiences from all over the country engage with subtitled content that isn’t dubbed into local languages,” Naudiyal said.

In a recent interview, Gaurav Banerjee, head-content, Disney+ Hotstar and HSM (Hindi-speaking markets), entertainment network, Disney Star said international content, from the house of Marvel, Disney, Pixar, National Geographic and Twentieth Century Studios has a dedicated audience.

“Marvel shows and movies like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Thor: Love and Thunder, Ms Marvel, Loki, continue to perform well. The Mandalorian, ObiWan Kenobi, Andor, the Book of Boba Fett have also performed exceptionally well,” Banerjee said.

Sushant Sreeram, country director, Prime Video, India, said in a recent interview that over 75% of the platform’s custtomers watch international shows and movies either in English or local languages.

“With localization in Indian languages, over 25% of total viewing time of international shows and movies is in Indian languages,” Sreeram said.

According to a recent report by media consulting firm Ormax, the number of Indians watching international English content jumped more than fourfold to 85.2 million currently from 19.1 million before the pandemic outbreak. While some of them watch in English itself, others prefer dubbed versions.

Of these, 42.7 million are SVoD or subscription video-on-demand (paying) viewers and 42.5 million are advertising video-on-demand viewers. According to Ormax, 65% of urban Indian SVoD audiences watch English content, across metros, mini-metros and small towns.

To be sure, media and entertainment industry experts agree any platform that intends to sustain for the long term will have to work with a combination of local originals and premium English content and tie-ups with foreign studios will become increasingly common. “Customers fundamentally want content so they will move wherever the shows are,” Uday Sodhi, senior partner, Kurate Digital Consulting said referring to the shift of HBO originals from Disney+ Hotstar to JioCinema.

With increasing awareness on social media and word-of-mouth promotions of international content, the fear of missing out and the need to be in sync with current trends often motivate young viewers across cities, towns and villages to watch popular shows from around the world.

“Dubbing has proven to be more impactful than subtitling in our journey so far. Localization in language of choice gave freedom and ease of acceptance to our audiences. We have promised and delivered two new shows every week and have built Wednesday as the day of release for new shows, achieving an appointment viewing habit this way,” a spokesperson for MX Player said. Live Mint

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