Their American counterparts such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video may have started with the advantage of global presence, but Indian video streaming services are also catching up to find an audience outside borders, with markets like West Asia contributing as much as 25% of the viewership in some cases.
Apart from the UAE, countries such as the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and south Africa are top international markets for OTT (over-the-top) services like ZEE5, ALTBalaji, Eros Now and Hungama Play. To be sure, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu films have always set the cash registers ringing in these countries with actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Rajinikanth drawing huge crowds.
“The digital payment ecosystem is a lot more robust in countries like the Middle East (West Asisa) whereas India is still developing the digital payments economy, so the ARPUs (average revenue per user) are higher,” said Ali Hussein, chief executive officer at Eros Now, outlining the reasons for the rapid penetration of Indian OTT services overseas.
Recognising the fact that all Indians love Bollywood movies, the platforms also offer them a range of south Indian language films, in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam, in an effort to cater to all sections of expatriates, primarily a blue collar workforce without access to television and for whom the mobile may be the primary source of infotainment and entertainment.
Archana Anand, chief business officer at ZEE5 Global agreed that Bollywood has a massive appeal in the international market and movies like Simmba, Saand ki Aankh and Dream Girl have done really well on the service recently.
“Given the large south Indian population in the region, we have also bolstered our offering for these communities with shows across Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu such as Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Keralam, Chembarathi and Poove Poochudava besides originals like Auto Shankar, Karoline Kamakshi, N.E.R.D. and movies like Madhura Raja, And The Oscar Goes To and Children’s Park,” Anand said.
Apart from Indian audiences, local OTT services are also looking to cater to the south Asian diaspora at large. Pakistani and Bangladeshi audiences especially make up a large part of the population in these regions. ZEE5 has found its shows like Jodha Akbar, Trinayani and Qubool Hai being particularly lapped up by them, while Hungama Play that has a partnership with Bengali production house Sri Venkatesh Films, finds a lot of its Bengali offerings popular among Bangladeshi audiences.
Apart from dubbing and subtitling content for local audiences, OTT services are also investing in strategic partnerships in overseas territories. For instance, Eros Now has tied up with Vodafone Qatar and entered into an integration deal with the UK-based TV and broadband company Virgin Media. The second collaboration will provide Virgin TV customers in the UK direct access to the Eros Now library of films, original web-series, music, and short-format content.
“Though cost of advertising is higher overseas and you often have to customize your content to suit the laws of the land, the affordability of consumers is higher and OTT provides them an inherent ease of usage. They don’t need to contact an operator to buy a package so it’s a good substitute for TV,” said Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji and Group COO, Balaji Telefilms whose drama originals are gaining particular traction with the 20-40 female segment in West Asia.