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OTT boom: Did the pandemic hasten the process?

It will be no exaggeration to say that the pandemic-induced lockdown in India only fuelled the growth of the booming OTT video streaming industry, while cinemas remained shuttered. Consumer feedback suggests that many post the lockdown turned to OTT platforms for entertainment and the habit that got formed during the lockdown has continued for most people.

Actor Nawazuddin Siddique told Outlook, “OTT has a different reach and it’s huge. Amazon and Netflix have a reach to 190 countries and people all over the world can watch your performance. The original films of OTT are viewed by the whole world. Sacred Games made four times more profit than any superhit Bollywood film. There is a much bigger world outside Bollywood. Bollywood is nothing in front of OTT.”

Siddique further said, “Good films never used to get a chance to be screened in big theatres. Even if a film with good content is showing at a theatre, it is run either at 11am or 4pm. Who has the time to watch it then? Even if theatres open, actors like us will not benefit in any way. There is a huge monopoly in theatres. Good content films have no place in theatres. OTT has changed the vision of the audience. They have become much more educated when it comes to cinema studies and cinema appreciation.”

“Lights, Camera, Action…The Show Goes On,” the report was released at the CII Big Picture Summit 2020 said tier-two, three and four towns have taken the lead in availing OTT services by clocking 1.5 times the number of new OTT (over-the-top) users as compared to metro and tier-one cities during the pandemic.

As people observed social distancing and stayed home amid the Covid-19 outbreak, the on-demand over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms for many became a primary source of entertainment. As more users were logging on to OTTs, many film and series producers also chose these platforms for launch of their series and films. International OTT players, mainly Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video together released approximately 30 original titles while Indian OTT players like Hotstar, Zee5, Sony Liv, MX Player also released many titles and provided entertainment to people on their fingertips. The multiplexes and cinema halls were only permitted to open in November with 50 per cent capacity and had less than 10 per cent of their normal footfall as people stayed away for fear of the virus spreading.

Some actors like Ishaan Khatter believe that though it’s wonderful that OTT platforms have empowered that kind of storytelling, largely the format of stories, it’s just an added platform. He says, “For me as an audience, the theatre experience is completely different and how you experience a film largely determines how you feel about the film. It will be interesting to see from here what the kinds of films are being made for a theatrical release and what kinds for digital. I would never be able to feel the same way watching a movie alone, would like to experience the collective experience. I am more of a cinema guy than a series guy, but I also like the mini-series format.”

With the rise of OTT’s popularity in India, there have also been many consumer discussions on LocalCircles in the last 12 months enabling consumers to share both the pros and cons of OTT platforms. The pros largely have centered around giving consumers increased content choices as compared to pre-OTT and the choice to watch according to their convenience.

According to media reports, the OTT industry and the information & broadcasting ministry are working on a set of guidelines that could set a common standard in the industry thereby serving as a reference of all.

Amid these developments, LocalCircles conducted its OTT survey 2021 to better understand users’ pulse on how they used OTT in 2020, what working well along with any concerns. The survey received over 50,000 responses from OTT users located in 311 districts of India. 45 per cent said the minimum age requirement for viewing specific content should be displayed more clearly on OTT platforms. Nearly 76 per cent OTT users subscribe to two or more OTT platforms. Nearly 41 per cent consumers relied on OTT platforms as their primary entertainment source in 2020.

The first questions asked consumers about their primary source of video-based entertainment in 2020, 46 per cent said “television channels via DTH, cable or app)”, 41 per cent said “OTT platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar”, and 8 per cent said “social media platforms such as Tiktok, Instagram, WhatsApp”. There were also 3 per cent who said “videos downloaded from the Internet”, and 2 per cent said “others”. Interestingly, there weren’t any vote casted for DVDs and VCDs, which suggests that the once popular medium of entertainment has vanished from the modern living room.

76% of the OTT users in India subscribe to two or more OTT platforms
There’s no doubt that OTT video streaming platforms raced to the top as the fastest-growing media and entertainment sector in India in 2020, especially during the lockdown as it became the only stay-at-home entertainment option. There are currently more than 40 OTT video streaming platforms in India. KPMG estimates that OTT revenue climbed 26 per cent and subscriptions, either ad-based or paid, surged 47 per cent, with close to 325 million Indians today streaming the favourite OTTs.

To better understand the number of platforms, OTT users are typically subscribed to, LocalCircles asked the question and in response, 30 per cent said four or more, 20 per cent said three, 26 per cent said two, 18 per cent said one. There were only 6 per cent of 7,834 OTT users who said that they have not subscribed any OTT platforms currently but they take them based on need. Some platforms offer trial subscriptions while some also offer subscription for a single show or movie.

Choice, convenience and high-quality content are top reasons why consumers use OTT platforms
Movie watches relied heavily on over-the-top video streaming platforms for new shows and movies during the pandemic. As many film producers from around the world chose OTT platforms as exclusive distributors for premiere. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar etc. became more bullish to line up as many originals and distributed them to drive high levels of viewership. As viewers become accustomed to watching what they want and where they want to watch, though paying more to have control over the programmes they watch as compared to cable subscriptions, which offer less accessibility and control, the next question tried to understand the primary reasons for consumers to use OTT platforms. The majority of 50 per cent said “choice and convenience”, while 31 per cent said “high-quality content”. Further breaking down the poll, 10 per cent of consumers said “lower cost than other entertainment channels”, and 9 per cent voted for other reasons.

45% OTT users say minimum age requirement for viewing a specific content should be displayed more clearly on OTT platforms; 42% find it clearly displayed.

One of the concerns raised by some consumers, mostly parents has been about the effective display of the minimum age requirement beforehand and during the show/movie such that children only have age-appropriate content accessible to them. To gauge the extent of the concern, LocalCircles asked users if the minimum age requirement is displayed effectively on OTT platforms. In response, 42 per cent said “Yes” while 45 per cent users said “No”, while 13 per cent said they didn’t know.

While some platforms are doing this quite effectively, including enabling a separate profile for children based on their age, all platforms must do the same. Some consumers have suggested that a standard approach be followed by all OTT platforms so the minimum age becomes easily identifiable and the appropriate consumer awareness is created about the same.

78% OTT users say they want more information on OTT code of regulation or conduct
The government of India late last year brought OTT video streaming platforms under the ambit of the ministry of information and broadcasting. Recently, 17 OTT players have adopted a self-regulation code that was introduced in September. These providers include Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney-Hotstar, SonyLiv, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Viacom (Voot), Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus, Aha and Lionsgate Play.

Consumers, however, currently seem to have little understanding of the OTT code of regulation and when asked if they would like more information about the OTT code of conduct, majority of them i.e. 78 per cent said “Yes,” 14 per cent said “No”, and 8 per cent couldn’t say. OTT platforms must enable this on and off platforms such that the common OTT user knows what to expect and what is a deviation from the code. Also, recently concerns were raised in the Rajya Sabha by Member of Parliament Mahesh Poddar about obscenity, indecent language and gender discrimination urging the government to regulate such content. When the same was discussed by OTT users, some members were not in favour of any government regulation citing that the movies and shows on OTT platforms are a depiction of society. There were others who disagreed. One area where OTT users agreed was the need for the code of regulation or conduct to define the content type in detail along with the rating. Some users cited the example of a few platforms where 18-plus is accompanied with content description i.e. nudity, language, violence, etc. This will permit certain users to stay away from the content type they would rather not watch.

Talking about censorship on OTT, actor Swara Bhasker said, “I personally don’t believe in censorship. I think that any modern, progressive and democratic society shouldn’t have censorship. We should have certification. I am all for certification and it should be very clear of what kind of content which age group should watch. But I find censorship to be very silly and childish. It’s a whole mentality that belongs to a bygone era. You are telling me that at the age 18 we can vote, we can marry, we can drive and even consume alcohol, but we can’t watch a particular kind of film. Isn’t that juvenile? One of the basic requirements for the creation of good art is freedom, in an atmosphere which is not under any kind of fear or backlash. In this kind of forcibly sterilised environment, you will not be able to create anything. Art is a kind of creation where you are giving life to an idea of yours. Censorship is a bad concept. You cannot create art in a sterile environment.”
Vani Tripathi Tikoo, member of Central Board of Film Certification said, “In the post-Covid scenario when families get together in front of their televisions and share content, the makers should be all the more responsible. It brings in a thought process that is collective. I think it is extremely important that we look at how the screening services are going to react or how they have to put themselves in a creative responsibility.”

70% OTT users do not approve of threats of intimidation, violence and death issued to artists, directors and producers of movies and shows.

In India, there has been a spate of cases of threats of intimidation, violence and death issued to artists, directors and producers of movies and shows. Recently, one of the artistes, Richa Chadha, received violence and death threats for allegedly stereotyping Dalits in the movie, “Madam Chief Minister”. OTT users were asked, “Recently threats of intimidation, violence and death have been issued against artists, directors and producers of OTT content, as a citizen of India and consumer of OTT content, does this worry you?” The majority of 58 per cent OTT users said “Yes, quite a bit”, and 15 per cent said “Yes, somewhat”. Further breaking down the poll, 12 per cent users said “No, doesn’t affect me much”, while 15 per cent said “Not at all”, and 3 per cent couldn’t say. Many of the members who participated in the discussion on the subject said that such threats should have no place in the society and if they are not acted upon sternly and swiftly by law enforcement agencies, they will only increase over time. According to many OTT users, the concern or grievance of an individual or a group of individuals or an organisation must be raised through appropriate pre-defined government channels.

In summary, OTT platforms in 2020 have been a sought-after source of entertainment for many as people stayed home and multiplexes and cinemas stayed closed for most of the year. The consumers use OTT platforms for the choice, convenience and high-quality content and amongst OTT users, majority have subscription to two or more platforms. However, as the industry evolves and common standards are created, OTT users demand better definition and display of the minimum age requirement and rating certification so they can make informed choices of what they want to watch. Also, consumers are keen that the code of regulation whatever approved by the government is shared with them and made easily accessible on the platforms. Finally, majority of the Indian OTT users are concerned about the various violence and death threats being issued to artistes, directors and producers and want that effective grievance channels must be created to address concerns of individuals or groups but such threats should not be tolerated and stern and swift action must be taken by law enforcement agencies against those issuing such threats. Outlook India

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