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OTT platforms are blooming

Recently, actor Manoj Bajpayee made some very insightful comments about OTT in a media interview. He highlighted how OTT has revolutionised the way we watch films and how, in the time of the pandemic, it has helped create a level-playing field. A truer statement cannot be made. This is not only applicable to OTT and films but also to OTT in many other fields like broadcasting, communication, education, etc.

In fact, it is a gross injustice to call these modern computer apps OTT since this term, which is an abbreviation for Over the Top, has obvious negative connotations. The opposite is actually the case. OTTs are, in fact, open, transparent and vibrant and have enabled rich interactions on social, work, academic and other fronts. They helped provide a near-normal existence in a practical and effective way, in this era of lockdowns, work disruptions, social distancing, and other constraints to normal activity. It might, therefore, be far more appropriate to refer to these computer apps as Rich Interactive Applications (RIAs) rather than as OTTs.

Enormous benefits
The benefits of RIAs to GDP growth and personal life enhancement are enormous and have been quantified by expert bodies such as ICRIER, the reputed Indian research agency, and WIK, the expert analyst/consultancy of Germany.

As per an ICRIER report, apps have the potential to contribute $271 billion or nearly ₹18-lakh crore to India’s GDP by 2020. WIK found, in its research, a high annual consumer surplus contribution of $98 billion or ₹7-lakh crore in 2017 based on a consumer study — an average annual per capita consumer surplus of $249 or nearly ₹16,000.

RIAs benefit telcos the most and the reality is that the benefit is increasing exponentially. One cannot exist without the other. RIAs are powerfully driving data usage and revenue growth for telcos. Without RIAs, telcos’ networks would remain mere pipes without much data traffic and, hence, offer a very limited revenue opportunity.

To term the heavily-beneficial RIAs as OTTs is tantamount to stating that the entire internet is ‘over the top’ of telecom data networks — a patently absurd proposition.

While RIAs/OTT platforms were already making a mark for themselves in the Indian market, the Covid-19 crisis accelerated the whole process. More Indians subscribed to OTT services during the pandemic than ever before.

Due to stay at home directives, limited social activities, enforced shutdowns and fewer entertainment options amid the nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic, OTT platforms in the country have witnessed a substantial surge in terms of content consumption and subscriber count.

From just two OTT platform providers in 2012, the number has increased to over 60 players now. According to a report by Media Partners Asia, the number of subscriptions for video on-demand platforms reached 57 million in 2020. By the end of this year, the number of video OTT subscriptions will reach 89 million.

The growing internet penetration, availability of affordable data and humongous uptake of smartphones have empowered consumers to choose from a wide range of RIAs where they can tap into any content, any time, at any place on a device of their choice as per their convenience. The OTT ecosystem is growing and witnessing interesting trends with India being seen as the new streaming hub and more and more production houses going digital.

OTT platforms are increasing direct-to-digital releases and enriching content library with diverse content and new features.

The Indian viewer has shown a greater tendency to spend on premium original content. Industry players are investing heavily in acquiring or developing new content and services, and are also focussing on improving customers’ experiences.

Another major trend is the preference for vernacular with 93 per cent of the time spent on videos in Hindi and other regional languages.

Rural channel
Further, rural India is opening a new distribution channel. Even as the digital content ecosystem evolves, the single biggest challenge is monetisation. As these attract more and more audiences, new monetisation models will emerge.

As far as RIAs/OTTs are concerned, India has done creditably thus far but there are even richer gains possible in the future if the current unique and facilitating regulatory approach is maintained and enhanced. Indeed, the best is yet to be. The Hindu BusinessLine

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