Everyone seems to be diving head first into the streaming game these days. If a few years ago there were only a handful of big players stepping into the Indian streaming waters, now it feels like there’s a whole new bunch of them cannonball-ing right in.
At last count, there were over 40 Indian OTT platforms with new ones cropping up all the time, each catering to a different niche. Last year alone saw the launch of Telugu platform AHA in February, the non-fiction focused Discovery Plus in March, the Indian indie-dedicated Cinemapreneur in August and the Hollywood-focused Lionsgate Play in December. Even SonyLIV relaunched its platform in June.
“2000-2005 saw a massive explosion of cable, 2010-15 saw a massive expansion of satellite…and 2020-25 will be the years of the OTT explosion,” says Rohit Jain, Managing Director of the recently launched Lionsgate Play. But how does a new platform stand out in an already overstuffed market? How does it garner eyeballs and, more importantly, subscriptions?
What Kind of Content Do You Want To Be Known For ?
The obvious reason audiences sign up for a streaming service is its content. What is your platform known for? Is there a niche you’re going for, or a more ambitious ‘one-stop-shop for all entertainment needs’ approach?
Of the newer streamers, Cinemapreneur specialises in Indian indies which haven’t found distribution elsewhere. They have over 40 titles currently on the platform with new releases every Friday. Much like the content they champion, they’re a smaller independent platform that have carved out a niche for themselves.
Discovery Plus’ specialty is all things non-fiction with titles on everything from sports to travel to wildlife – what they broadly refer to as ‘infotainment’. Their first slate of originals include shows on the lives of the armed forces such as Mission Frontline hosted by actor Rana Daggubati and Ladakh Warriors hosted by Randeep Hooda.
SonyLIV’s Head Of Growth And Monetisation Manish Aggarwal says that for them the focus is sports, international titles and what he calls ‘cerebral content’ – prestige dramas with high quality storytelling. That they’re responsible for one of 2020’s most celebrated shows Scam 1992 suggests they’re clearly on the right track.
But does a steady pipeline of flashy new originals take precedence over a large, diverse library of titles? Aggarwal says both are equally important. While strong originals are what draw people in, the library is what keeps them there to maximise ‘watch time’.
Lionsgate Play currently has a library consisting of only Hollywood titles, with new ones like the John Wick spin-off series The Continental on the way. But even they’re all set to enter the Indian originals market. Managing director Rohit Jain says a lineup of Hindi titles will be announced soon and will offer a “large scale big-budget cinematic experience.” He adds that equally important is the accessibility of that content and ensuring it transcends language barriers.“People forget we are an English speaking country, not English consuming. So there’s a lot of people who feel more comfortable watching Hollywood content in their local language” says Jain, adding “we recently started dubbing in Bhojpuri as well for that matter”.
The Pricing Model: Getting The Most Bang For Your Buck
While most platforms go down the monthly subscription route, Cinemapreneur has a pay-per-view model which they feel gives the viewer more flexibility to watch only the titles they choose to. It also allows them to give a percentage to the filmmakers themselves to offer them a viable revenue stream.
Despite an attractive price point of Rs 299 a year, other platforms such as Discovery Plus, choose to offer a selection of their titles for free as a sampler to get customers on board. “I think it goes back to the behaviour of the Indian consumers of: before I buy I want to see what I’m buying,” says Issac John, the platform’s Business Head. Similarly SonyLIV offers the first episodes of all their original series for free to help rope in subscribers and allow the content to speak for itself.
The Tie Ups: Distribution and Discoverability
There’s no point creating a robust library of titles and winning originals if they aren’t easily accessible. Another key challenge for new platforms is to be plugged into every device and system out there from Smart TVs to satellite providers. “Alliances and partnerships are very very crucial to the overall OTT business,” says SonyLIV’s Manish Aggarwal. “The key is again making sure you are available across all platforms and devices. Especially in a country like India where someone has a Rs 5000 smartphone and others have a 2.5 lakh smartphone. And it’s the same with smart TVs. …The more you’re available on the platform of their choice, the more business you’ll get,” he says.
The same applies to telecom services like Vodafone and Airtel who also have their own apps populated with content from existing OTT platforms. This not only allows them to offer value-added services to their customers, it also allows streamers to tap into a larger audience.
For almost a year, Lionsgate Play’s content was only available through telecom apps like Airtel Xstream before launching as their own independent player. “This allowed us to test the waters in India…it just became a rock-solid research ground for us about what people are watching and what they liked,” says Jain. “We probably had as many as 10 million consumers engage with our brand at various points,” he adds.
Standing Out In The Crowd
Aside from getting the bare basics of content and distribution in place, a big challenge for OTT players is marketing and spreading awareness in an already bustling market. The solution? Usually turning to big names to help spread the word.
Lionsgate Play recently launched a video campaign with Tiger Shroff and Ananya Panday to help push their platform and garner eyeballs. When Discovery Plus launched in March, it did so with an Into The Wild With Bear Grylls special featuring Rajinikanth, one of the country’s biggest stars. For Cinemapreneur, traction comes from going after the bigger, event indie titles. They recently had Adil Hussain-starrer Nirvana Inn and currently have Achal Mishra’s celebrated Gamak Ghar on the platform.“Every filmmaker also brings their own audiences and fan following,” says founder Gaurav Raturi.
The consensus among the heads of streaming platforms is that a successful one isn’t reliant on mastering either distribution, tie-ups or a content library, but a combination of all three. Beyond the basics, Lionsgate Play’s Jain calls it a game of trial and error to see what works. “We won’t know until we experiment, right?”