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COVID drives higher streaming consumption in small-town India

Small Indian towns have become growth drivers for streaming platforms with people staying home as covid-19 cases mount, contributing to nearly 40% of overall consumption across video-on-demand services. Ranchi, Lucknow, Varanasi, Vadodara, Vizag, Vijayawada are some towns picking up pace in viewership as Internet and smartphone penetration grow. Investments in mass-market programming, availability of regional language shows and dubbed content is driving viewership beyond the Hindi-speaking populace while pre-paid bundled telco packages help.

“While the growth trajectory for small towns had begun before the pandemic, they continue to grow at a faster rate than metros with many of these audiences having gotten introduced to OTT (over-the-top) streaming content during the lockdown and certain entertainment formats like movies (in theatres) not available,” Siddhartha Roy, chief operating officer, Hungama Digital Media, said. Roy added that the platform has witnessed viewership spike of nearly 78% and 53% in tier-three and tier-two towns compared to 30% in tier-one towns. However, small towns grew on a smaller base.

Divya Dixit, senior vice-president, marketing and revenue at ALTBalaji, said easier access to the Internet and technology these days has made OTT one of the main sources of entertainment. 59% of ALT viewers are primarily Hindi speaking, and belong to smaller towns of the country. The platform has seen a 100% year-on-year growth in the Hindi hinterland. “We saw a spike in numbers coming from Hindi-speaking markets including Lucknow, Indore, Ludhiana, Bhopal, Guwahati, Raipur, Mohali, Jalandhar (during the lockdown),” Dixit added. As far as specific towns go, Ranchi has picked up tremendous pace in viewership with 192.01% growth in under a year on ALT, while Lucknow follows a close second with 189.84% growth over the same period.

To be sure, dubbing content into different regional languages seems to be working for most platforms. While major services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar did not respond to Mint’s queries on small towns, all are fast recognising the diversity of India as a nation and the importance of reaching out to Indians in their own languages. Amazon Prime Video is bringing out Hollywood flick The Tomorrow War with dubs in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu this July, while Netflix had dubbed international originals like Extraction in Indian languages last year. SonyLIV made its popular original Scam 1992-The Harshad Mehta Story available in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.

“Smaller towns and cities have been craving regional content which would bring them pride and (a sense of) relatability. The southern part of this county has a huge loyal viewer base, that tends to stick to its language when it comes to consuming content,” Abhishek Jain, co-founder of Gujarati language streaming platform OHO Gujarati said.

Other key strategies adopted for small towns include smart marketing and pricing where mobile plans and telco packages help. This January, Amazon Prime Video announced its first mobile-only plan in the world, starting with India. Launched in collaboration with telecom company Bharti Airtel, the Amazon plan is only available to pre-paid Airtel users in multiple price plans. Amazon’s move came more than a year after American rival Netflix launched its mobile plan priced at Rs. 199 a month in the country.

Further, platforms are also increasingly trying to set narratives in small towns incorporating cultural nuances and sensibilities. OHO Gujatai’s latest show Vitthal Teedi starring Scam 1992 star Pratik Gandhi is about a small-time gambler from a small village of Kathiawaad in Gujarat.

“Many of our stories are set in semi-urban and rural areas and will appeal to audiences there,” said Ajit Thakur, CEO at Telugu video service aha Video who adds that while seamless Internet bandwidth continues to be a challenge in small towns, proof of their continuing growth comes from the fact that viewership did not drop during the IPL earlier this year. Live Mint

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