Goodbye Theatre Welcome OTT

From the world of unrealistic drama and cacophonic news of TV, Indian audience swiftly moved to Digital streaming services. This is the world of youth, where they are watching what they want to watch. So TV is out and OTT platforms are in

By Geeta Singh

Who are Seong Gi Hun (Player 456), Alvaro Morte aka Professor, Kaleen Bhaiya, Ganesh Gaitonde or Sartaj Singh? Why are they coming into the conversations of Indian youth? Professor, the protagonist of the famous Spanish cult show Money Heist, and Seong Gi Hun, the hero of Squid Game, both famous worldwide, speak in Spanish and Korean but they are still captivating youngsters of cities like Kolkata, Jaipur, Shillong or Jalandhar. The Red Light Green Light game of Squid Game has been very popular among young Indians after the release of this show. Whereas Alvaro Morte aka Professor has never imagined that he has such a huge fan base in India. They are new heroes who became a part of our life thanks to the emergence of OTT. 

Just in six years, OTT has competed with the popularity of theatre halls and the TV market with the support of its strong subscription network. If we look at the statistics of the last two years when cinema halls were shut for nearly seven months due to the Covid-19 pandemic the growth of OTT and its subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) revenues for the first time were expectedly overtaken box office spending in 2020. 

MARKET SHARE

The Indian market for OTT is the fastest flourishing sector in the entertainment industry. It is growing at 28.6 percent CAGR and is expected to become a USD 2.9 billion market by 2024. And it is expected to cross 12.5 billion USD by 2030. According to PwC, regardless of pandemonia, the Indian entertainment industry is likely to cross the 55 billion USD by 2024 growing at a CAGR of 10.1 percent aided by growth in sectors such as OTT, internet advertising, video games, e-sports, music and podcasts. In 2019, the Indian entertainment and media sector was pegged at $34.3 billion.

 As we all know Over the Top (OTT) is a subscription-based streaming service that delivers content over the internet bypassing broadcast television platforms that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content and can be streamed on the smartphone. Presently there are 51 OTT platforms in India. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and Sony are some of the giant players in the game with their Indian counterparts are ALT Balaji, Jio TV, Voot, Eros Now, Zee5, MX Player and TVFPlay. These streaming services can be accessed via their websites as well as via apps on smart mobiles or smart TV platforms through paid subscriptions. The improvement and deep penetration of internet networks across the country and increasing digital connectivity has strengthened the OTT market. Its growth is seen in Metro cities as well as tier two, three and four cities equally. India has nearly 832 million internet users and this number is growing at a rate of 4 to 8 percent making it the biggest market potential for global players. Thanks to cheap data, India has emerged as the world’s fastest-growing web services market.

The Korean drama ‘Squid Game’ and its characters became the talk of the town in India after its release. It became Netflix’s most-watched TV show to date

CATCHING EYEBALLS

It also turned it into a battleground for content wars between global giants such as Amazon Prime, SonyLiv, Disney Plus HotStar and Netflix as they look for growth beyond a saturated U.S. home market. Very soon Apple TV will also be available in India. A few months back Apple signed a multi-year content partnership with Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey for its OTT Apple TV. As per sources, it is considered one of the biggest video content streaming deals ever. In the US Apple TV wants to give standalone subscriptions to its exclusive shows at a lesser price as compared to its biggest competitor Netflix. Last year, the company bagged big names like Steven Spielberg, Reece Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston to work in collaboration with Apple TV. ‘Ted Lasso” is a very popular original web series.

Producer of recently released film Gehraiyaan on Prime, Karan Johar said, “Right now digital is a revenue source for Bollywood, but even that is tied with how a film does at the box office. If a star doesn’t do well in theatres, his film won’t have as much equity in the digital market. And if the audience loses the habit of going to theatres, then it is difficult to bring them back.” 

STORIES ABOUND

The Korean drama ‘Squid Game’ and its characters became the talk of the town in India after its release. It became Netflix’s most-watched TV show to date. On the other hand, our own first original desi series on Netflix ‘Sacred Games’ also attracted viewers immediately. ‘Sacred Games’ talks about political references of the riots of 1984, Shah Bano, demand a new religion, mobs lynching, Ram Mandir, sterilisation, Congress’ 70 years, emergency, beef, Muslims, Hindus and dazzle of the film industry in its story, mainly in foul language, while rummaging through small-time hustling to armed gang wars. Ganesh Gaitonde, the antagonist, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, gives Sartaj, the protagonist of the show, played by Saif Ali Khan, a challenge of saving Mumbai city in 25 days. Show directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikram Motwane tried to tell the tale of the unholy alliances through their web series. The show is based on the eponymous book by Vikram Chandra. Just in six years, OTT has competed with the popularity of theatre halls and the TV market , which was released in July 2018 in nearly 200 countries to garner around 130 million subscribers. 

Sacred Games has given such a never-ending, foolproof formula to many producers and directors. Web series like Mirzapur, PaAtAl Lok, The Family Man and Raktanchal on similar flavour and plot were made for different platforms in Hindi and regional languages

Within a week of its release, the show emerged as a new craze among youngsters. With frenzy and tremendous viewership, it generated controversy too for its bold and erotic content. Political parties were demanding a ban on it for the political references taken in the series. However, Sacred Games has given such a never-ending, foolproof formula to many producers and directors. Web series like Mirzapur, Paatal Lok, The Family Man and Raktanchal on similar flavour and plot were made for different platforms in Hindi and regional languages. The directors of these series somehow kept their treatment and storytelling similar to Sacred Games.

Veteran actor Manoj Bajpayee becomes the number one hero for web series after ‘The Family Man’ series, in which Amazon pays tribute to everyday heroes whose sacrifices go unsung. ‘The Family Man’ tells the story of a middle-class man who works for a special cell of the National Intelligence Agency. 

Like Netflix other OTTs also started streaming erotic and bold content. ALT Balaji, owned by TV czarina Ekta Kapoor made erotic shows like ‘Gandii Baat’ based on urban and rural women’s sexual desires. MX Player is another such OTT that is garnering subscribers through low-cost sleazy shows. So, now the question arises, are we now free to watch the stuff which we are not allowed on TV or in the theatres?

AUDIENCE FREEDOM

Yes. Nowadays, OTTs like Netflix and Amazon Prime can free Indian audiences from the boredom of our TV channels and also from the intervention of censorship. The biggest thing about OTT is that it gives freedom of privacy to the individual. We can watch anything privately on our phones anytime, anywhere. Hence, during the lockdown in the long span of the pandemic when multiplexes and theatre halls were closed people switched swiftly to OTT. India has nearly 432 million internet users and this number is growing at a rate of four to eight percent. People spend a lot of time on these platforms where they are getting original and uncensored content. 

These global streaming services try to seep into the cinematic consciousness of Indian viewers uncensored. Netflix is armoured with the latest technology that makes it the global leader. The shows and films produced by Netflix have the unique aspect of multi-linguality. Shows like ‘Narcos’, ‘Squid Game’ and ‘Dark Desire’ helped Netflix to make a huge impression in India. All of them even proved cash cows for Netflix. 

We are still coy about exploring women’s sexuality on-screen as our society is male-dominated. And the films like ‘Lipstick Under Burkha’, ‘S Durga’, ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ that tried to tell the stories of women’s sexuality faced ire and had a long and bitter fight with censorship for release. On the other hand, web series like ‘Decoupled’ ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein’, ‘Sacred Games, ‘Lust Stories’, ‘Gandii Baat’ and many other shows are doing this explicitly, without any outcry, since they are easily available on Over the Top (OTT) services.

These global streaming services try to seep into the cinematic consciousness of Indian viewers uncensored. Netflix is armoured with the latest technology that makes it the global leader

These global streaming services try to seep into the cinematic consciousness of Indian viewers uncensored. Netflix is armoured with the latest technology that makes it the global leader

SUBSCRIPTION GAME

According to Media Partners Asia market report 2021 Disney Plus Hotstar (51 million), Prime Video (22.3 million) and Netflix (6.1 million) together account for 80 million paying subscribers in India. The OTT of ErosNow includes blockbusters of Bollywood like ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, ‘Dabangg’ and ‘Bajirao Mastani’ in its library. Eros has expanded its kitty with regional languages and now has a film library of more than 3,000 Indian films. While both Netflix and Amazon are looking to Bollywood for content, signing deals with leading production houses and studios, it also meant that many loyal moviegoers are now spoilt for choice.  Currently, Netflix has 6.1 million subscribers and the other world player, Disney Plus Hotstar, saw a jump of more than 100 per cent, from 16 million in 2016 to 51 million and Prime with 22.3 million subscribers tapping hard to woo South India. As a part of a rigorous marketing strategy, Disney Plus HotStar has announced bundled prepaid plans with Reliance Jio to tap new Jio users in India. The plan will allow users to experience DisneyPlus Hotstar Premium for their Jio numbers.

With more than 4 million subscribers, ErosNow is trying hard to improve its subscription base. It is primarily responsible for producing Bollywood films, has a galactic library of more than 3,000 Indian films, including Hindi and regional hits, and is the largest in the country. Netflix offers a total of four subscription plans starting with mobile as its cheapest and premium as the most expensive. The Netflix mobile plan is priced at ₹149 per month and you get SD (480p) content and the entire library content available in India. You can watch on a smartphone or tablet but only one device at a time. While it has made significant progress in adding original regional and Hindi content, it still has a lot of ground to make up for competitors. Players such as Hotstar and Voot have higher access to Star India and Viacom 18 media libraries. And they are increasingly looking towards new revenue options such as brand association and advertising for example TVF and Arre Original generate 75 percent of their revenues through brand associations, 10 per cent through advertising and the rest from syndication to platforms. 

In India, the demand for fresh and original content by youth can be traced back to the immediate popularity of the famous Hindi show Permanent Roommates. It was created by TVF and was streamed on YouTube. Since then the craving for up to date original content was there among the young audience but it was satiated by web series. An attraction of the young generation to OTT has evolved this industry into a multi-billion industry because it is meeting the content needs of the demanding generation which was unknown to the traditional television world.

Popular OTT platforms in India

Hotstar: Started in 2015 is one of the favourite platforms of Youngsters. It is the most subscribed OTT in  India. Recently this platform has tied up with Walt Disney and made itself Disney Plus Hotstar. Big Bollywood films like Atrangi Re, Big Bull, Hum Do Hamare Do have been released.

Amazon Prime: It is one of the most popular online streaming platforms right now. Launched in 2016 Prime streams movies and series in 6 languages besides Hindi. During the lockdown, Amazon Prime has  become a pioneer in taking made-for-theatrical releases of Indian films. From Coolie No. 1 to Sherni almost 49 films made their debut directly on Prime. 

Netflix: Popular American streaming service Netflix made its mark in India in 2016. Netflix has so far served many original content to the audience like Sacred Games, Delhi Crimes, Betaal, Bard of Blood. According to a report in 2018, Netflix had 6 million subscribers, which has increased significantly after the lockdown.

Voot: Voot is an Indian OTT also launched in March 2016. It is part of Viacom 18. This platform is available only in India. Shows like Bigg Boss and serials of Colors and MTV are streamed on it. Along with movies and shows, Voot Original Series are also streamed on this platform. Voot Select has launched a paid subscription service in February 2020.

Zee5: It is an Indian video on demand service from Zee Entertainment’s Essel Group. It was launched in February 2018. On this platform, users can enjoy content in 12 languages. Recent merger of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL) and Sony Pictures Network India (SPNI) is likely to dominate the lucrative Indian television as well as OTT market space. With the merger, the combined entity will be closer to Disney Plus HotStar.

Sony Liv: Sony Liv is an OTT service of Sony Pictures Networks India. It has data of the last 18 years of the Sony network. This is the first OTT platform in India, which produces music content for Hollywood as well as India.

Alt Balaji: This is an OTT platform of Balaji Telefilm. Its website has claimed that this platform is the largest content bank in India. Alt Balaji has around 27 million subscribers. The platform streams mainly cheap and sleazy content.

Eros Now: This platform was started in 2012 as a film library database. It is controlled by digital media management Eros Digital. 

MX Player: This is also a video streaming platform started by MX Media & Entertainment. It has 28 crore users globally. The platform has been providing its original music, series and movies to the audience, including the recent release of Raktanchal, High and Aashram.

Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music, and society giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian.

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