Indian Streaming Content: Boom or Bubble?

27 Nov,2020


By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh Kapoor

In a tough year for businesses in general, the growth of the streaming business in India has stood out as the big story of 2020. Last week, Disney+ reported that out of its 73.7 million paid subscribers worldwide, 18.3 million are from their Indian service Disney+ Hotstar. Even if one assumes that a fraction of this number will unsubscribe now that IPL is over, this is a staggering number, nonetheless. India is a market known for its reluctance to pay for content.

The current SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) consumer base is India is estimated at about 30-35 million people, and the average number of services subscribed to at about two, leading to an estimate of 60-70 million active paid subscriptions. Considering that every subscription is used by about three people on an average, that’s about 200 million (20 crore) SVOD consumers in India, a healthy number by any yardstick.

An equally big growth story is emerging on the AVOD (Advertising Video on Demand) front. Catch-up television has been at the forefront of AVOD consumption in India for a few years now. But this year has seen original content springing up too, with MX Player, the leading AVOD platform, clocking huge numbers for its shows, especially Aashram, two seasons of which were released within a short period of time.

And then, there’s film content too, which has got a major surge because of an extended period of theatres being closed and no major new releases announced even after they have re-opened. If we just consider national content (Hindi and Made-in-India English shows or films), the number of shows and films launched in 2020 have been upward of 200 already. The year may end at a number close to 250. If production had not been halted because of the lockdown, we may have seen a triple century being hit. And this does not include many low-profile YouTube shows that form a secondary content ecosystem online. In the streaming category, International content gets sizeable traction too. Add to that the activity at the regional front (Bangla platform Hoichoi and Telugu platform Aha have done very well), and it’s a buzzing category indeed.

Now that’s a lot of content! In comparison, the Hindi GEC category launches about 80-100 new shows every year, and about a similar number of Hindi films release theatrically with at least some marketing push behind them.

But how many of these 200 shows and films have actually done well? India does not have organised viewership measurement on the streaming category yet, and it may take some time before that happens. Platforms, understandably, are reluctant to share figures. We, at Ormax, are working on statistical estimate models to estimate viewership of shows (and a Top 5 list is released every week on Film Companion since September). But while we wait for that data to be built over a year, another yardstick for which more data is available is the likeability of the content itself. Of those who watched the show or the film, how many liked it enough to recommend it to someone they know?

This data has been built at Ormax since the start of the streaming originals in 2015. Measured on a percentage (0-100) scale, Advocacy (likeability) of 60% of more suggests a positive response, while that of 70% or more indicates that the content has truly broken out. Only 27% of shows or films launched in 2020 met the 60+ benchmark. And only 12% crossed 70. These numbers are at par with TV and films content in India over the last 2-3 years.

But the difference is when you can calculate the absolute number of shows or films that were “not liked” (below 60). That’s 150! Yes, let that sink in. 150 Indian streaming originals and films launched in 2020, in Hindi or English, received response that ranged to lukewarm acceptance to outright rejection.

Production houses are enjoying this phase, when there is a lot of demand for content from the streaming platforms, and a lot of work is being commissioned. But the question that should be asked sooner than later is: Are the streaming platforms becoming a dumping ground for mediocre content? Content that would not have found its way in any other medium, such as television or theatrical?

For every Scam 1992 or Mirzapur, there are half a dozen other shows that just don’t get any traction. All streaming platforms, without exception, take pride in the data that they own, and guard it jealously too. Why, then, should the success rate be a paltry 27% only?

It is certain that 2021 will see a further surge in content production for the streaming category, especially because more films will be made with the intent of releasing directly on OTT. One hopes the strike rate improves too. Because content quality is as much a measure of success as anything else, especially if one has an eye on the long-term sustainable growth, which is needed to ensure 2020 doesn’t become just a bubble year.



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