Riding on the digital wave in India, over-the-top (OTT) platforms have taken the media and entertainment industry by storm. Owing to the large-scale deployment of 4G networks and low-cost unlimited data plans, there has been a 56-fold increase in overall mobile data consumption in India in the past four years.
According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), there are more than 32 online content and video streaming platforms in India. The market size is expected to hit $5 billion by 2023. As per Statista estimates, revenue in the Indian video streaming segment amounted to $193.8 million in 2019 and is set to reach $239 million in 2020. The segment served a large user base of 53 million in 2019, which is expected to grow to 70 million by 2021.
The Indian OTT industry is highly competitive. While several local players are trying to establish their audience, major platforms from the US have also entered the Indian market. According to a recent report by PwC, the OTT market is set to grow at the rate of 22 per cent in the next three years. The roll-out of 5G networks will provide a shot in the arm to OTT platforms. The key elements driving businesses are uninterrupted connectivity, mobile devices, value pricing for end users and personalised content offerings.
The focus of OTT players has now shifted from niche to mass content consumption. To serve the Indian market, all the major OTT players are investing heavily in regional and live content as it helps to reach area-specific audiences.
Collaboration is the key
Industry players are leveraging collaboration opportunities. To this end, telcos are partnering with OTT players to increase their subscriber base by offering free subscriptions and unlimited video streaming. For instance, in May 2020, ZEE5 and Airtel announced their collaboration to bring digital entertainment to customers in India. The telco also partnered with Disney+Hotstar to bring high quality video entertainment to viewers.
OTT platforms need to be strategically advertised to reach a broad audience. The monetisation strategies are based on the freemium, subscription-based, sponsored content and advertisement-based models. In a bid to strengthen its end-user experience, Netflix is planning to invest Rs 5 billion-Rs 6 billion per year in original content. Further, Amazon will be investing about Rs 20 billion in original content. Meanwhile, Airtel is planning to generate meaningful revenue streams from its digital offerings in the upcoming year.
Tailoring experiences through technology
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have slowly entered the OTT space as a new way of viewer engagement. The use of these new-age technologies has made the content consumption experience more experiential and immersive. Artificial intelligence (AI) has come to the fore. It helps analyse consumption patterns to tailor recommendations for viewers.
As per the Broadband India Forum (BIF), the video streaming market in India has exploded with 65 per cent of video consumption coming from rural India, which has only 40 per cent internet connectivity.
In 2019, Apple announced the new Apple TV+ video streaming platform. Netflix is already growing rapidly in India, and the OTT player has altered its global strategy to launch its first-ever mobile-only subscription plan in India. Recently, Flipkart forayed into the OTT space with its free in-app video service Flipkart Video.
In April 2020, Star India’s OTT platform Hotstar was officially rebranded as Disney+Hotstar. Hotstar was acquired by Disney as part of its $71 billion deal with Fox in 2019. With this, approximately 8 million paid subscribers were added to the Disney+Hotstar video streaming service in India. Meanwhile, the Zomato app launched its video section, Zomato Originals, offering original shows, recipes and more with over 2,000 videos.
OTT views soar amid Covid-19
Video streaming platforms in India witnessed a surge in subscriptions amid the Covid-19 crisis. According to data released by Kalagato, user engagement on Netflix shot up to as much as 80 minutes a day as of March 28, 2020, from 50 minutes on February 5, 2020. Further, ZEE5 reportedly recorded around 80 per cent growth in subscription and a 92 per cent surge in movie streaming during the first month of the lockdown. Meanwhile, Velocity MR suggests that more than 75 per cent of Indians have purchased new subscriptions for OTT platforms during the lockdown period. While Hotstar and YouTube witnessed a 73 per cent increase in their user base, Amazon Prime and Netflix subscription increased by 67 per cent and 65 per cent respectively. Similarly, Airtel Xstream recorded an overall jump of 50 per cent in streaming volume amid the ongoing lockdown.
In a bid to reduce the burden on the network amid Covid-19, the Cellular Operators Association of India, in March 2020, wrote to the Department of Telecommunications and OTT companies to lower the streaming resolution to standard definition (SD) from high definition (HD). The OTT players complied with the association and restricted streaming on cellular networks to only SD content.
Cinematic experience on handsets
The Covid-19 crisis may alter the content consumption pattern in the long run leading to a paradigm shift for the movie business. With major Indian films premiering on OTT platforms amid the crisis, more and more producers are looking at direct-to-digital releases. In 2019, the digital revenues from films grew by nearly 30 per cent, while theatre revenues grew by less than 15 per cent.
In May 2020, the Multiplex Association of India (MAI) urged producers and studio partners to keep a 60-day gap between theatrical and OTT releases. However, within a week of MAI’s letter, Amazon Prime Video revealed that it has acquired six other Indian films for its direct-to-digital slate. Further, ZEE5 has lined up 15 direct-to-digital releases for financial year 2021.
Direct-to-digital releases will not only increase app downloads, but also convert non-paid users to premium ones. However, shelling out more money for acquiring new films could impact the content budgets of OTTs for other projects, including their own original shows. How this shift stands to affect all stakeholders in the showbiz including OTTs, film exhibitors, multiplexes, producers, studios and even viewers remains to be seen.
As per a report by Media Partners Asia, India’s online video market will touch $4 billion by 2025, with subscription services contributing more than $1.5 billion and advertising accounting for $2.5 billion. In the current pandemic, audiences are spending more time online and OTT platforms have almost doubled their viewership. However, the rising levels of encryption remain a bottleneck for telcos in India. At present, 60-80 per cent of traffic on 4G networks is encrypted. Data originating from OTTs such as YouTube are layered with high encryption protocols like QUIC. Going forward, the future of OTT in India will be defined by quality content. Platforms that can consistently create quality content will beat the others in the market.
By Shikha Swaroop