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OTT viewership rise slows despite wave 3

Online content viewing habits having been established after the big jump in numbers during the first covid-induced lockdown, video streaming platforms and media industry experts said OTT (over-the-top) platforms may see a negligible (4-5%) spike in viewership or subscriber additions in the ongoing third wave.

This may be a result of the absence of stringent countrywide lockdown as well as people recovering faster in the Omicron wave and resuming work. Besides, services, too, have access to fewer films since many of them postponed their release in theatres owing to the restrictions in the ongoing wave and will not be available for premieres on OTTs.

“The biggest spike for services happened during March and April of 2020 and the viewership never reverted (to pre-covid levels). People have anyway been working from home, plus many have figured a way to watch OTT content on smart TVs,” Ajit Thakur, chief executive officer at Telugu streaming service aha said, adding that restrictions this time are nowhere close to the first lockdown.

On the other hand, fresh content and new releases always lead to a spike in viewership, said Siddhartha Roy, chief operating officer at Hungama Digital Media whose service has just released the third season of its psychological drama Damaged to good traction and which had been seeing organic growth from metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru even before the Omicron wave.

Balkrishna Hari Singh, founder and CEO, Frenzi – a single-window search and recommendation app for streaming content – said OTT is becoming the first choice for many households across India and is slowly turning into a family service.

“As the country moves towards cord-cutting over a period of time, choosing to stream even television shows as per convenience as catch-up content has gained ground,” he said. The ease of using the platforms has helped people just stick on. “The shift happened in 2020 during the first lockdown when many came on to platforms that had begun premiering films that had skipped theatrical release. By the second lockdown though, more original content was being pushed,” said Singh. Many viewers opt for annual subscriptions that take time to expire, he said, explaining the reason behind marginal additions in subscribers.

Last week, American streaming service Netflix Inc. said it had added 8.3 million subscribers globally in the December quarter and saw net additions in 2021 decline by more than 50% to 18 million, compared to 37 million in 2020.

Karan Bedi, chief executive officer at MX Player, said the service has seen about a 30% increase in minutes per user from the end of December. The OTT industry is in the early stages of its second phase in India where it is the primary platform of content consumption, he said, adding, “A lot of our user base doesn’t watch linear television.” The service has just released the second season of crime drama Bhaukaal. Live Mint

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