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What is shaping the future of online streaming in India?

SVOD versus AVOD, dubbed content, market consolidation, and other emerging trends.

The money pouring into the streaming sector is going to be invested in analytics technology because content will soon be shaped by analytics, Avinash Kaul, CEO of News18 Broadcast News & Managing Director of A+E Networks, TV18, suggested during a discussion at the ‘Future of Video India’ event organised by the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA).

“The (number of) people who are used to only seeing content on small screens is increasing,” Kaul remarked, adding that streaming companies will have to adapt to consumer preferences.

The conversation was moderated by Ashwini Gangal, Managing Editor, ​​afaqs!, in which the duo explored various trends which are likely to emerge in the OTT (over-the-top) industry in the future. MediaNama has also compiled key takeaways from sessions with Hotstar and Netflix that took place at the event.

All these discussions shed light on the nature of the growth that will be experienced by the OTT industry in the coming months. They also offer insight into the shape India’s nascent OTT space is likely to take once the bump provided by COVID-19 starts to lose steam.


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Big Tech will push out small OTT players

Bigger role for tech companies: “The entire sector will realign on the basis of access which means it will be driven by which platform you (consumer) are on,” Kaul said. He said that he expects to see Apple, Google, and Facebook do more in the space which will lead to small players folding up.

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Advertising is here to stay: “Advertising will always be the mainstay because there won’t be enough size and scale ever in the world, given the levels of poverty, for subscription businesses. Only one per cent of the total population will be able to subscribe to any video service. The rest of the world will consume an item which is driven by advertising,” Kaul put forth.

Use of analytics for advertising: Kaul explained that the advancements in technology will aid in developing methods to use data efficiently for advertising purposes. Analytics is relegated to recommendation algorithms as of now; “AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) play a vital role,” he added. Not many OTT (over-the-top) players have reached a size and scale where they can claim to have perfected their recommendations which may change in the future, Kaul revealed.

Personalised video streams in news: Kaul predicted that there might soon be personalised video streams offered by news organisations because news is general in nature. “Now if somebody wants a separate digital service for sports news and if there’s a platform available, we might carve it out. All of it depends on a sufficient cohort of audiences which are either subscribing directly or there are a sufficient number of advertisers who are willing to back content,” Kaul stated.

Rise of factual entertainment: India, unfortunately, has not seen investment in the factual entertainment business because most of the titles have been produced by general entertainment channels, Kaul bemoaned. Factual entertainment channels have relied a lot on international content and less on creating original content in India. OTT has changed this trend in order to cater to a family audience, he reasoned.

“Families are not going to watch edgy content together so you have to produce content which is factual in nature. It is what will give the next level of growth to OTT in India otherwise it will continue to be in some dingy corner because you don’t want the rest of the world to know what you are watching,” Kaul said.

Disney+ Hotstar shifts focus to its SVOD model

Louis Boswell, CEO, AVIA spoke to Sunil Rayan, Head and President, Disney+ Hotstar in a keynote conversation about the relevance of pricing in a OTT market like India.

Moving towards subscription: “The biggest shift for us (Disney+ Hotstar) over the last couple of years has been moving to an SVOD-type (Subscription Video on Demand) offering while maintaining our freemium, ad-supported offerings. We’ve got three offerings— mobile, super, and premium. India is still an AVOD-supported (Advertising Video on Demand) market; the user base for AVOD continues to be much larger than SVOD,” Rayan said, batting for more variety in price points at which the service is offered.

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  • AVOD and SVOD are one model: “We’re always balancing between the two. In fact, I don’t even think of AVOD and SVOD as two separate models. It’s a combination of what we need to do because India is a highly price-sensitive market. Subscription models are great because it gives predictability on what the revenue stream would be from a business perspective. AVOD is dependent more on how the economy is going,” Rayan spelled out.

Experiments in content: Rayan said that Disney+ Hotstar is looking to evolve and experiment with different types of shows. ”(The platform) has experimented with influencer-based shows. We have done shows with episodes of five to ten minutes each just so we can align with consumer preferences. The platform has gone more regional in our content as opposed to sticking to just one language,” he added.

  • Will produce digital-only content: Rayan said that the platform was looking to service both— the TV and the digital audiences. “But we’re experimenting with exclusive content only on digital to see if it attracts a different type of audience. The shows which are made for watching at a complete stretch do better in the digital world. We will continue to leverage both TV as well as digital. But we also feel there’s content specifically for digital,” he added.

Accessible on living room devices: “We’ve increased our footprint when it comes to living room devices. We were only on Apple TV and Android TV when we started a few years ago. Now we are on Samsung, Chromecast, FireStick. We’ve increased our availability on living room devices by like five or six times,” Rayan said.

Market consolidation: Rayan opined that the OTT sector was in early stages at this moment. “The streaming market is highly vibrant. There’s room for multiple people to operate right now. We will still see a lot of proliferation in the next two to three years but when audiences converge that’s when it may happen,” Rayan added.

Netflix India balances between Orignals and Licensed Content

Pratiksha Rao, Director, Films and Licensing at Netflix India was interviewed by a senior journalist Anuradha Sengupta over how projects are greenlit at Netflix India.

People will not stop going to cinemas: “Change is constant. I don’t think that people will stop going to the cinemas in India at least,” Rao said, but he also added that people no longer think that they need to go to a theatre to consume cinema. “In fact, an interesting fact to share with you. Indians consume a lot more films than our consumers globally so we know that our members love them,” Rao predicted.

  • Piracy is a grim reality: “Piracy has unfortunately become a reality across the entertainment business. We have a very strong anti-piracy team that is constantly working on it and taking down (pirated content). It’s definitely something at the top of mind (for us),” Rao added.

No formula to commission content: “It’s just about how different the stories are. There are some basic tenets of storytelling that we all go by but a lot of it is just your creative instinct. We (Netflix) look at what the story’s trying to say and what the director’s vision is. Why (do) they want to tell that story? How do they want to tell that story? What do they want the audience to feel through their story? Will the audience be moved? Will they be entertained?” Rao said in her response.

Movie stars are important: “You can’t take away the stars, there’s a big filmography behind them that builds them. You know there is going to be an upfront audience when you premiere something which has a big star. We have announced a few films with some big stars and at the same time, we’re also doing films with emerging young talent, young directors,” Rao commented.

Content for Hindi and non-Hindi languages: “We’re licensing a lot from languages such as Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam in addition to commissioning originals. We’re balancing our slate across licensing and originals. We are also actively dubbing our global content whether it’s films or series in local languages because there is a big demand,” Rao disclosed.

India prefers dubbed content: Rao said that Netflix was leaning “a fair bit in dubbing global content in local languages” in India instead of offering subtitles.

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Netflix’s plan for India

When asked about India in a recent earnings call, Netflix Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said: “We have seen a nice uptake and engagement in India (post the price cut) so we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”

The recent price cut was a bet in terms of long-term revenue maximisation, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer and Chief Operating Officer Greg Peters said. “We’ve seen that effect take hold where we have an additional bump in subscribers. The bet is that those folks will enjoy titles and that they will talk enthusiastically about those titles to their friends, their family, their coworkers. And that’ll lead to another sort of positive momentum on the flywheel of sign ups,” he explained.

Gambling with advertising

Netflix’s Co-CEO Reed Hastings revealed that the company was looking to increase its price spread by exploring advertising on low-end tiers as it lost subscribers for the first time in a decade in Q1 2022.

“We’re trying to figure out over the next year or two, but we are quite open to offering even lower prices (than present plans) with advertising as a consumer choice,” Hastings said.

Hastings explained that it will not be a short-term fix because some consumers will get used to the plan and come to expect it. India is likely to be one of the most significant markets in which Netflix will try to promote its ad-driven plans given what Rayan also said in the session, about the country being an AVOD-supported market.

This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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Written By

I cover several beats such as Crypto, Telecom, and OTT at MediaNama. I can be found loitering at my local theatre when I am off work consuming movies by the dozen.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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