Not at all Quiet on the OTT Front

24 Mar,2023



By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorOver the last three years, it became abundantly clear that streaming (or OTT, as it’s called in India) is the medium of the future in this country, even as other media will continue to co-exist. Linear television always had the numbers. But thanks to a mix of factors, ranging from the pandemic, to ever-reducing data costs, to a nosey TRAI, linear television has barely managed to stay afloat. Pressure on revenues has been felt across the board, and that’s never a good sign.


Streaming itself is trying to find its sweet spot. Is it a premium paid (SVOD) medium, as all the promotions of well-mounted web-series suggest? Or is it a medium for the ‘masses’, where free (AVOD) content is going to dictate the future? The jury has been out. And the last few weeks have seen their share of action on this front.


Perhaps the biggest shift in the dynamic has been around the IPL. The 16th edition of the league, which starts March 31, will stream free on JioCinema. That’s a polar opposite to how it was thus far: IPL was a subscription (and hence, revenue) driver for Disney+ Hotstar, not just in India but at a global level too.


Then, there’s the talk of the largest AVOD player in India outside of YouTube, i.e., MX Player, being up for sale. The content side is going through its continuous evolution. For example, price points for acquiring streaming licences to theatrical releases have not stabilised yet.


All these are healthy signs, one would think. A growing category is bound to see new ideas, new strategies, and new alignments. And some of these may shape the future of the category. For example, there is little doubt in my mind that IPL’s streaming viewership will outnumber that on linear television this year.


How did linear television find itself in this situation is a matter of another debate. But it should not have, because it’s still the staple, go-to medium for millions of Indian families every night. But the only way you can fight technology is by building a precise and relevant narrative. The linear TV industry has failed to do that for itself.


Amidst all the positive action, the talk of censorship of streaming content has started again. This week, the I&B minister advocated censoring “vulgarity”. The genesis of this not-so-veiled threat lies in a Delhi High Court judgment will handling a complaint on TVF’s show College Romance. The state and the judiciary playing moral police can be a major irritant in a category that’s otherwise amid a period of high activity and growth.


All eyes, hence, are on India’s streaming story, in its second phase, where the category seeks stabilization and re-alignments. And the upcoming IPL will set the ball rolling on that front.


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