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Homegrown OTT platforms invest in tech to improve viewer experience

After shoring up content libraries, local OTT platforms are investing in technology upgrades to improve product experience for their subscribers.

Streaming services like ALTBalaji, MX Player and even regional language OTT firms are investing in making interfaces more user-friendly, allowing for videos to play even on patchy internet connectivity in remote areas, apart from customising recommendations based on language and location of customers. The investments are high but platforms realise uninterrupted services are the only way to win customer loyalty.

This is backed by a study by media consulting firm Ormax which said 46% of audiences feel technology of a platform, including video quality, search options etc, is more important to them than the content itself.

“We see ourselves as a technology company in the business of media and entertainment. Making sure your technology is seamless and flows without interruption is key to winning customer love and loyalty,” said Siddharth Mantri, senior vice-president, chief product officer at MX Player.

Given inconsistent internet connectivity in India and the fact that a lot of users have caps on data they can consume on a daily basis, MX has developed compression algorithms that ensure data consumption on its platform is 50% of other services, Mantri said. Apart from this, the platform has built intelligence to adjust video resolution as network and bandwidth change and is investing in personalized feeds and hyperlocalized recommendations depending on location of users, a tactic that Mantri said, has led to significant increase in watch-time.

“The OTT industry is witnessing a switch in terms of how users are consuming and connecting with content. It will be important for service providers to understand content and consumers and generate the perfect viewer journey by offering a personalized experience,” Shahabuddin Shaikh, chief technology officer, ALTBalaj said. The app, Shaikh said, is based on systems that track and analyse user data, for example, the need to have minimum clicks to choose options and enhance engagement by introducing the episode list feature on the video player screen.

Baskar Subramanian, CEO and co-founder at Amagi, a media technology company said over the past two years, there has been a dramatic shift in the Indian streaming ecosystem and more investments are making their way into technology. “There are many factors that are unique to India. For example, English has been the language of search for long, which often leads to errors when looking for a regional title. Platforms are aware of these challenges and are investing in these capabilities,” he said.

Abhishek Jain, co-founder of OHO Gujarati agreed the 19,500 plus languages and dialects spoken in India are not just a challenge, but it is also a huge opportunity for regional content developers.

Further, payment models integrated into the mobile ecosystem, are very unique to the country and any OTT platform hoping to win favour with the Indian audience will have to factor in phone compatibility while designing their user experience, Subramaniam said. “In a price-sensitive and multilingual market such as India, finding a balance between innovation and profitability will be the order of the day,” pointed out Kavita Shenoy, founder and CEO, Voiro, an ad-tech start-up for monetizing OTT platforms.

Akshay Bardapurkar, founder of OTT platform Planet Marathi said platforms like theirs are trying to address the fact that not all apps and phones are made for people in the metros. “We want to make sure things like payments go through smoothly especially for viewers abroad who may not have an Indian number,” he added.

India’s diversity, slow internet and connectivity issues as well as lack of market penetration make for challenges for smaller OTTs, according to Sowmya Iyer, founder and CEO, DViO Digital, creative and tech-led digital marketing services company. “International players that have established themselves as the global giants in the industry do have a technological advantage making them a preferred choice for most millennials,” Iyer added.

A Netflix spokesperson said the launch of the downloads feature, the mobile plan priced at Rs.199, the user interface (UI) in Hindi and the introduction of UPI Autopay as a method of payment are a few ways the service has been made more relevant for members in India. “In addition, we launched simplified UI for entry level smartphones as well as offer adaptive streaming, which adjusts streaming quality based on the internet speed of our members. Choice and control are also important to our members, which is why our improved Parental Controls enable parents to make the best viewing decisions for their families,” the person said.

Foreign players have a significant advantage reaping the benefits of their earlier and current technology investments in developed countries, said Manish Sinha, business unit head, OTT solutions and services, To The New, a company that builds applications for video platforms. “They start with a right and strong foundation and make investments for customizations on that foundation for the Indian market. The foreign players also budget more investments on tech, as a ratio to total investments or content investments, compared to their Indian counterparts,” Sinha said.

Indian companies may be lagging behind on the investment front but they do have the advantage of understanding the local culture and DNA, many feel. “By combining their local knowledge with strong technology solutions, Indian OTT platforms can create truly exceptional user experiences for their customers,” Subramaniam said. Live Mint

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