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Regional OTT platforms look to go big

Regional video streaming platforms that specialise in content in specific languages such as Bengali, Punjabi and Marathi, among others, said the year 2022 will see them raise their game with large-budget shows that target family audiences now watching web content on large-screen TVs.

Over-the-top (OTT) video services such as Neestream (Malayalam), Planet Marathi, Chaupal OTT (Punjabi) and Hoichoi (Bengali) said they are looking to double both investments and content slates next year though they may not have deep pockets like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other foreign firms. However, they plan to onboard shows and films across genres and increase investments to retain the audience base they have acquired over two years of the pandemic, they said. Many have witnessed viewership triple since last year and may also diversify into other languages besides their core.

“Our thought is very clear, the market in India is unique and every platform has its loyal user base. Our focus on one language helps us provide more value to our customers,” said Soumya Mukherjee, vice-president, revenue and strategy at Bengali streaming service Hoichoi that is planning to double its content budget in 2022 and is aiming at 32 original shows which will include at least 10 shows created locally in Bangladesh.

“These shows will bring forward stories which require a bigger scape with high production values. We have already shot five of these and three are in production,” added Mukherjee naming titles such as Gora, Mahabharrat Murders, Srikanto, Tiktiki and Uttoran among others, to watch out for next year. Hoichoi is also planning world premieres of 10 movies which will stream on the platform directly after theatres and before television. Connected TV sets have helped the platform gain traction among an older, 35-60 age group, Mukherjee said.

Akshay Bardapurkar, Marathi film producer and founder of OTT service Planet Marathi agreed the coming year will see their platform bring out projects with higher production values besides sprucing up its product experience with better features and more robust social media. “We now have insights on viewer engagement that will help us grow AVoD (advertising video-on-demand) offerings and bring more brands on board. This will result in big-budget shows,” said Bardapurkar whose platform is also in talks with US investors. “This has truly been the year of regional cinema and entertainment which have now become completely mainstream,” he said adding that in comparison, foreign OTTs have focused on collaborations with popular Bollywood actors and studios. Planet Marathi plans to bring out 25 web shows and 10 movies in 2022 and some upcoming titles include Pondicherry, Sunny, Sahela Re, Mi Punha Yein and Badlee.

To be sure, media experts estimate that though niche OTT services are currently spending around Rs. 50 crore a year on content and technology, they cannot match the money power that lies with the bigger platforms. However, their expertise lies in their understanding of the specific language market and its nuances since many of these are backed by local film producers or broadcasters.

As foreign platforms like Netflix slash subscription rates, Sandeep Bansal, owner of Punjabi TV channel Pitaara TV and Chaupal OTT said there is no competition as regional players cater to the entertainment needs of regional audiences only. “It is not possible for a regional OTT to compete with foreign giants as the focus is entirely different,” he said. Subscription for Chaupal TV, that has already clocked in five lakh downloads, is already low and there will be more promotional discounts available to customers in the future, he said. Chaupal streams content in three regional languages — Punjabi, Haryanvi, and Bhojpuri. In 2022, the platform is planning two seasons of a show called Shahi Majra, besides movies like Kade Haa Kade Naa, Umran Ch Ki Rakheya, Miss Tania, Ghoda Dhai Kadam, Sab Phadey Jaangey, Shagan, Vyah Da Laddu, Dj Waley Babu, Aaja Mexico Chaliye and Mull Di Janani.

Charles George, head of Malayalam-focused OTT service Neestream, had told Mint in an earlier interview that instead of seeing themselves as competition to foreign players, regional OTTs focus more on regional viewers by providing them with quality vernacular content. “Also, there are numerous films with art value which don’t always get space on the foreign OTTs. Neestream thrives by providing quality programming both in terms of story and screenplay as well as technicalities of production. There is no absolute requirement for a star cast as compared to the bigger players,” said George whose platform had streamed the much-acclaimed drama The Great Indian Kitchen earlier this year. The service has seen over four lakh downloads. Live Mint

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