OTT: Ride Along, Because It’s Buzzing!

08 Mar,2019

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

It’s all buzzing on the original content front in the OTT space. The five-year-old category in India began to find its feet in 2018, as covered in this column written in September 2018. Since then, over the last six months, the buzz has got stronger by the month. Hotstar is the latest entrant in the big-ticket original content play in the digital space, with the much-publicised launch of shows under the umbrella ‘Hotstar Originals’. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video continue to scale up their India offerings, while Zee5, ALT Balaji and others continue to launch shows by the week. There’s another new entrant in MXPlayer from the Times group, and of course, the guys who started it all, TVF, are very much in the mix too.

 

The original OTT content ecosystem in India can no longer be called nascent. Over the last 12 months, its broad contours have evolved in a definitive way. The column linked above spoke about the need to prioritize ‘quality over quantity’. While quantity still dominates, quality is slowly beginning to come our way too. And as someone who has had the opportunity to get a peek into some of what’s lined for later this year, I can say with some confidence that 2019 will be the best year for the category quality-wise.

 

No one is currently bothering themselves too much with the question on where the money (revenue) is going to come from. It’s apparent now that there’s a sound future in this category, and eventually, its economics will work themselves out as the category settles down, maybe by 2021. But you need to be an early entrant and have a substantial subscriber base by then, and that’s what the top players, most of which have deep pockets, are prioritising.

 

The myth that OTT will kill mainstream television still prevails, and keeps coming up in coffee machine conversations across media houses. It’s the only genuinely-misguided piece in the OTT story. Over the last two weeks, in the aftermath of Pulwama and then Balakot, news ratings have more than doubled. As mentioned in this column last week, sports and news may gain big this year, at the cost of general entertainment. But television will survive alright. Cord-cutting is still a hugely niche metro phenomenon, and there isn’t much to say on it in a country as large as ours.

 

The intriguing question, then, is: Where are people getting all this additional time in their lives to watch digital content, especially in an age when ‘fast life’ and ‘not enough time’ are commonly-expressed grouses? The answers may not please social or medical experts. It seems that this time is being created at the cost of more ‘developmental’ activities like reading, spending time with family and friends, and… sleep. But that’s another topic for another day.

 

Last week, Akshay Kumar, currently Bollywood’s most popular male star, walked onto a stage after setting himself on fire, to announce the launch of his new Amazon Prime series (working title: The End). That visual, coming within days of the launch ad of Kumar’s 2020 cop flick Sooryavanshi, sums up where the OTT category is heading. It’s going to be about big guys and big bucks. It’s going to be quite a ride over the next two years, and I, for one, am not blinking.

 

 

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