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Higher investment in content & tech, innovative marketing strategy led OTT industry in 2019

The sector is estimated to reach Rs 24 billion by 2021

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MUMBAI: The over-the-top (OTT) market in India turned more saturated in 2019. To make a dent in the cluttered space, the contenders have significantly upped their game with a greater amount of high-quality original content, incorporating new technologies and increasing marketing spend.

As per EY and FIICI 2019 report – ‘A Billion Screens of Opportunity,’ the OTT sector in India grew by a whopping 59 per cent in FY2019, growing from Rs 13.5 billion in 2018 to Rs 17 billion in 2019. The sector is estimated to reach Rs 24 billion by 2021.

How OTT platforms significantly upped investment in content and technology

While ZEE5 has been bullish on producing original content since the beginning among the domestic OTT platforms, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) CEO Punit Goenka said that the financial year FY 2019-20 will be the year of peak investment for its video on demand (VoD) platform. Throughout the year, ZEE5 launched over 80 originals across languages in the calendar year 2019. In this over-competitive market, ZEE5 stands ahead of SonyLIV by 1.7x, approximately 5-6 times ahead of each the platforms - MX Player, Amazon Prime Video, VOOT and 14x of Hotstar.

Along with launching a number of Bollywood-starring web-series, bringing back popular franchises in Hindi, the platform had at least one original web series come out in six different languages each month on an average in regional languages including Marathi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil. As Indian audiences have always been an avid follower of movies, the platform strengthened the movie library as well. While the platform already boasts of over 20 original direct to digital films, it also made Bollywood hits like URI: The Surgical Strike, Dream Girl, Simmba, Sonchiriya, Kedarnath, PADMAN, Veere Di Wedding, Mulk, Parmanu, The Tashkent Files, The Accidental Prime Minister, Judgemental Hai Kya available for its users.

After banking on catch-up and sports content for a long time, the leader in the Indian OTT pack, Star India’s Hotstar also decided to invest in premium original content. Reportedly, Hotstar jumped onto the bandwagon with a Rs 120 crore investment plan. The primary reason to launch originals is to convert users into paid subscribers in the face of increasing competition. Hitherto, adapting successful foreign shows by infusing local flavours had been an important aspect of Hotstar’s strategy but it is certain that the platform is not going to limit itself to adaptations.

The traditional player Shemaroo also entered the OTT market in 2019 with its new platform ShemarooMe. The platform launched a host of new and exciting properties to keep the audiences entertained throughout the year including Shemaroo Bollywood Premiere, Shemaroo Comedy Studio, Shemaroo Bhakti Studio, Komal Nahta...aur ek Kahani, Mantlya Manat, etc.

Shemaroo Entertainment Ltd COO Kranti Gada said that ShemarooMe’s Bollywood Premiere, the offering that showcases World Digital Premiere of critically acclaimed movies every Friday, was launched in September 2019 and has received positive response from not only the audiences but also the actors and the teams involved in the making of the films.

“Shemaroo has seen a loyal base of audience as well as manifold growth with the increase of more varied content. Content is the only factor that lures viewers to any OTT platform or deters them,” Gada added.

Times Internet’s MX Player, which entered the market in February 2019 after re-invention, also created a buzz with originals like Hello Mini, Immature, CheeseCake, Thinkistaa and Queen. International streaming giants are also looking at rich local content library to make their games stronger in India. Reportedly, Amazon Prime Video is looking to double its original content offering for India.

At the same time, Netflix chairman and CEO Reed Hastings recently said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit that the company is looking to invest Rs 3,000 crore for original content in India this year and the next. He also added the top-performing Netflix shows from India include Sacred Games, Little Things, and Delhi Crime. He highlighted Mighty Little Bheem, since its release in 2019, has been watched by 27 million households around the world, including in Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. Since launching here four years ago, Netflix has licensed hundreds of Indian films and shows, and invested in over 40 originals.

According to a MediaPartnersAsia report in July 2019, ZEE5 holds 44 per cent, Amazon Prime Video holds 17 per cent, Netflix holds 11 per cent, SonyLIV holds 10 per cent, VOOT and Hotstar hold 9 per cent each of the cumulative original content hours for OTT in India.

To retain users and advertisers on the platforms, all the major platforms highly emphasised on better user experience. The way ZEE5 made its content strategy stronger, it made significant investment in technology too. The platform launched a one-of-its-kind industry-defining ad-suite, the ad:tech solutions for advertisers. The offering hosts tools likeAmpli5, Ad-vault, Infonomix, PLAY5, Wishbox.

ShemarooMe entered into an in-app travel partnership with ixigo, app in app partnership with Dainik Bhaskar, and made the platform available on Roku. According to Gada, the availability of the channel on Roku devices further strengthened ShemarooMe’s presence in the US market by offering its vast library of Bollywood and regional language content to the Indian diaspora residing in the US while it did a global launch after seven months of its domestic launch.

“2019 for the digital streaming industry was a revolution with multiple shows being launched, and many platforms experimenting with new technologies and new business models. 2019 also saw the rise of gamification for the non – fiction shows that were tried as a successful experiment with at least two other platforms. However, they have been for network-related apps with shows being broadcast simultaneously on television. The crux lies in independent apps adopting this to engage audiences with their Original content as a scalable model. It also saw the OTT platforms experimenting with influencer marketing, AI and VR filters, microbloggers, VR innovations, extensive usage of UGC apps etc,”  ALTBalaji senior VP and head marketing  Divya Dixit said.

In a recent interview withIndiantelevision.com, MX Player CEO Karan Bedi said that the platform has invested a lot of money on video compression which means that the amount of video the platform can deliver in 1GB data is much more than others. Bedi added that buffering or latency is much lower on the platform which translates into lower cost for the user and the platform. He also added that the platform has also been investing a lot in recommendation systems.

PwC, in its 2019 annual report – ‘Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2019-2023,’ estimated that the Indian OTT market will grow to Rs 11,976 crore by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 21.8 per cent. During that period, India is also slated to be the eight biggest OTT market overtaking South Korea.

How streamers innovated the marketing strategy

“All the OTTs in India are suffering from a similar issue which is to get the audience to pay wholeheartedly for content. On top of that, very few OTTs have been able to create attractive content. People have also followed the GEC mantra in OTT advertising. Basically, you know like take a show and cluster it across. The most remarkable thing is the absence of remarkability,” McCann Worldgroup vice chairman and managing director Partha Sinha said.

ZEE5 India SVOD marketing head Reilly Rebello said OTT platforms made communication a lot more contextual while talking about marketing trends in 2019. He added that even radio and outdoor were very contextual to location and geography this year. Moreover, OTT platforms are going on new social media platforms like TikTok, ShareChat, Helo.

“The third one was that we saw a lot of OTT players going in the outdoor space. We did a lot of outdoor advertising in the first half of the year and it became noticeably larger in the second half of the year. We saw a lot of video advertising happening which was quite a move away from static poster-driven advertising. We emphasised on video and it was not only TV but also social media, YouTube and other OTT platforms,” Rebello added.

“With each show the challenge is to break the mould and do something new appealing to the audience, Maybe that’s why the skyline of cities is dominated by OTT platforms. Billboards are prima facie an ‘announcement medium’ providing prominence across prime locations in target markets. It helps the vast audience pool notice and register a particular campaign, thereby increasing recall. However, from a show perspective, there are always several factors involved, largely the celeb value, the genre of the show etc. Marketing the show has science in its core element, in a never-seen-before manner. It lies perfectly in sync with adopting new-age technology that appeals to our target audience. If it’s an innovation hoarding, then it doesn’t just grab eyeballs, but registers in the minds of the audience owing to its novel concept,” ALTBalaji’s Dixit added.

Shemaroo’s Gada commented that with bite-sized video content and emergence of regional social media apps gaining popularity, the industry eventually saw influencers and celebrities joining the bandwagon thereby driving adverting dollars to these new-age platforms.

Rebello noted that ZEE5 changed the whole advertising game to be more video-focused as people are watching a lot more video. He also added that the measure has given a huge upside in terms of subscription and brand association.

“We tried making things a lot more contextual. For example in our outdoor hoardings for Rangbaaz every line which has been there was made contextual to the location of the city. We got a lot of good feedback taking this approach. The dialogues are getting more popular. We also started our TikTok presence,” he added on ZEE5’s marketing initiatives.

Talking about marketing mix, Rebello said that TV and digital hold equal importance as TV still gives most reach. Followed by TV and digital, outdoor and radio gets importance as those two mediums help in branding. He also emphasised on the importance of social media for the overall marketing strategy.

“We saw many interesting campaigns by McDonalds and Burger King taking on each other through advertisements. Interestingly,  we also saw another form of this back home in India  when Shemaroo seized the opportunity of an ongoing “Masala Nahi Toh Mazaa Nahi’ campaign of Society Tea and placed their OOH hoarding right below the Society Tea hoarding with a continued conversation to say, ‘Toh Masala Chai ke Saath Ek Masala Movie ho Jaye? A unique way to complement each brand’s strength to woo audiences and strike a relevant connection seems natural and organic,” Gada added.

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