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OTT platforms ride on foreign markets for returns from big-budget titles

Big-budget shows such as Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, The Archies, Jubilee and Indian Police Force have thrown up mixed results for foreign streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which have spent ₹150-200 crore on producing and marketing some of them. The reason: Challenges in the Indian OTT market where paid subscriptions have hit a ceiling, and few new users are signing up.

However, industry experts point out such shows are made keeping in mind global audiences and revenue possibilities, and may be amortized across markets, given their relatively broad appeal and commercial treatment.

The audience for OTT platforms rose by 13.5%, reaching 481.1 million in 2023, up from 423.8 million in 2022, according to a recent report by media consulting firm Ormax. While this growth rate is significant, it falls short of the 20% surge seen in 2022. Meanwhile, the investments made in many of these high-budget titles did not translate into compelling or relevant content, industry experts say, and word-of-mouth which is essential for streaming shows and movies, has been mixed.

Power rating
According to estimates by Ormax, Heeramandi had clocked in 6.6 million views in the first week of release, while The Archies had managed 3.8 million. The figure stood at 6.9 million for Indian Police Force and 5.5 million for Jubilee. As far as Ormax Power Rating (OPR) goes, which is a score on a 0-100 scale that represents how much a show or a film is liked by its viewers, the list of top 17 web shows for 2023, does not include Jubilee and the movie ranking does not include The Archies. Heeramandi and Indian Police Force were both released in 2024, assessments for which haven’t been made yet.

Netflix and Prime Video did not respond to queries on the performance of and returns from big-ticket titles.

“In case of some big-budget shows, especially Jubilee and The Archies, the results weren’t that great for platforms with the content not found engaging enough, especially considering the scale and cast and the fact that these were titles backed by mainstream Bollywood production houses,” a senior streaming platform executive said, declining to be named.

Initial visibility
The person added that considering the marketing hype and names associated with these movies and shows, viewership in the first week of release can seem decent in some cases. Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, which released on May 1, 2024, was the most-viewed Indian series on Netflix in its first week of launch, trending in 43 countries. It continues to be on the Global Top 10 TV (non-English) list on the platform in its fourth consecutive week and has secured the number one spot in India straight for a month.

The Archies, on the other hand, trended in Top 10 Films in India for three weeks since its release on 7 December, 2023. It also trended for two weeks on Netflix’s Global Top 10 Films (non-English) and reached Top 10 Films in 10 countries such as Mauritius, UAE, and so on.

“There is no doubt the shows get a lot of visibility initially, but often end up affecting the equity of the platform since engagement, viewership or completion rates don’t match up,” the person said, adding that it is increasingly getting tough for platforms to justify large investments even for what are seen as flagship shows that come only a couple of times a year, to parent companies.

Bait for overseas markets
However, the person added that tentpole shows with key Indian talent are often a bait for overseas markets and are meant to be amortized across regions. In any case, ARPUs (average revenue per user) are much higher in foreign markets that these platforms operate in, as compared to India.

“A lot of the ROI comes from outside India. In fact, for foreign services, any show doing even above average in India but not doing well internationally cannot be seen as profitable. The global lens is a big factor in green-lighting such shows,” agreed Girish Dwibhashyam, vice-president, strategy and business head at DocuBay, a documentary-streaming platform. Even as the number of shows and overall investments are rationalized, some big titles will continue to be commissioned by international players, he added.

To be sure, industry experts point out the big shows cannot shoulder the responsibility of increasing subscriptions alone. “Flagship shows do help bringing some fence-sitters on board but the platform also has to keep users engaged with a regular velocity of content,” Uday Sodhi, senior partner, Kurate Digital Consulting, said. LiveMint

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