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Covid surge: OTT services may see 20-30% spike in viewership amid mobility curbs

Video streaming platforms could see a 20-30% spike in viewership as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic leads to state-specific restrictions, pushing more people to stay at home. On Monday, Delhi announced a week-long curfew allowing only essential services. While Maharashtra has seen a stringent lockdown, states like Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have also introduced curbs on mobility.

Service owners and media experts said this growth will be driven by regional content and tier-two and tier-three towns even though web shows will have to compete with the ongoing cricket Indian Premier League for eyeballs.

“The new restrictions are more region-focused and localised (unlike the nationwide lockdown last year) but there is no doubt consumers continue to lap up content and are far from developing OTT fatigue,” Siddhartha Roy, chief operating officer, Hungama Digital Media, said.

For now, much of the spike for Hungama, to the tune of 20-25%, is coming from states like Maharashtra and Gujarat where cases are at an all-time high. While the company witnessed 65% rise in content consumption between March to September last year, numbers had stabilised at 8-10% month-on-month increase since and continue to remain so in other states, Roy said.

Around 70% of the consumers who had subscribed to their annual packs last year have renewed their subscriptions lately, said Soumya Mukherjee, vice-president, revenue and strategy at Bengali-language streaming service Hoichoi. “There has been a definite surge in viewership and we’re also benefiting from lockdown in countries like Bangladesh where Bengali language content is popular,” Mukherjee added.

Mehul Gupta, co-founder and CEO at SoCheers, an independent digital agency, said, affordable pricing plans and regional language content will be two key factors deciding the fate of OTT platforms in the coming months. “Everyone is programming to appeal to and lure the masses of India right now and the effort they are putting into regional content is insane,” Gupta pointed out.

Apart from investing in Tamil and Telugu originals, foreign streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been acquiring south Indian language films released in theatres earlier this year.

Netflix declined to comment for the story. Amazon did not respond to Mint’s queries.

Homegrown services such as ZEE5, ALTBalaji, Hungama, Hoichoi and aha Video are in the race to ramp up their numbers too.

“Apart from metros, the Bharat audience has become more digital-savvy, with people joining the Internet by the day. From a content segmentation and subscription acquisition point of view, one needs to start looking at these newer people to acquire,” said Divya Dixit, senior vice-president, revenue and marketing at ALTBalaji, adding that the company plans to concentrate on consumer segmentation behaviour, understand how to engage customers better, and look at on-boarding the new segment that has just been acquainted with the Internet.

The average time spent by a user per day on ALT, priced at Rs300 annually, has increased to 83 minutes compared to 60 minutes during Q3 FY21. The platform is also trying help people navigate it through voice searches.

Shailesh Kapoor, CEO at media consulting firm Ormax, however, said the OTT content pipeline is thinner especially in terms of films. Few Hindi films have arrived in theatres in the past few months to be acquired. Both filmmakers and OTT platforms have been cautious on releasing movies directly online this year.

Yet platform owners said they have a robust content pipeline that will last them up until the end of this year even though all shoots, especially in Maharashtra, have been cancelled. Netflix has a documentary Searching for Sheela and festival favourite The Disciple scheduled for this month, Hungama has more than 20 originals slated for this year across six languages including Telugu show Game launching this week.

“So far, we are on track in terms of show launches. We have multiple titles that have been shot and only need post-production and editing, which can happen from home. We are also looking at shifting shoots to locations outside Maharashtra,” said ALT’s Dixit whose platform has shows such as Broken But Beautiful 3, Mai Hero Boll Raha Hu, Apharan 2, The Test Case 2, PuncchBeat Season 2, Cartel and His Storyy coming up. Live Mint

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