‘Divide between India and Bharat still exists, giving OTT a lot of room to grow’

The third edition of the e4m Streaming Summit 2022 that took place on May 11 in Mumbai under the theme ‘Storytelling through OTT’ saw an enviable assembly of some of the leading minds in digital content and marketing. They deliberated on the dynamic, ever-changing digital media landscape of the country.

One of the key panel discussions was one on the topic – ‘Understanding the OTT Consumer Base’. Chaired by Chaaya Baradhwaaj, Founder & MD, BC Web Wise, the panel featured Zubin Dubash, Business Head, ShemarooMe; Sameer Seth, Director, Marketing-India, Dolby laboratories; Ishan Choudhury, VP – Growth and Strategy, SugarBox Networks; Sidharth Shakdher, EVP & CMO, Hotstar; and Shailaja Saraswati – Chief Content Officer, OMG India.

Shakdher started the discussion by delving right into the exact breakup of OTT audiences in India. He noted that by now almost everyone was watching content on OTT platforms, and that if one had to define audiences in uber-demographics, they tended to skew towards younger people and more male viewers. “What might seem counter-intuitive, however, is that the scale of people watching OTT across metros, Tier1, Tier II cities and smaller towns is fast equalizing and soon there won’t be any skew towards a particular geography.”

Shakdher further said that the few remaining demographics left to conquer were older audiences, women (“their slightly smaller number being indicative of the general digital divide in India”), and certain parts of the south, with regional digital penetration still having not reached its apex.

Taking the conversation ahead, Dubash noted that ShemarooMe had followed a slightly different strategy when it came to viewers by concentrating on providing content for the whole family. “For us, it’s about regionalizing. We identify places where there is a strong need and a gap in the market and pick our cohorts accordingly. One such example is the Gujarati market. We’ve made sure that we are generating content in Gujarati that we want Gujaratis to fall in love with. We started this in D2C a year ago (though we’d been making OTT content for others for over three years), and are offering a broad cross-section of content from Gujarati web series to Gujarati blockbusters, which are making their digital premiere. ”

Dubash said the spectrum included recorded plays and theater as Gujaratis love ‘natak’. It also covers understanding the customers, from determining a price point that they’d be willing to pay and providing content worth spending on. “We offer them a subscription that guarantees a new title every week, as part of the brand promise.”

As for Choudhury, he noted that Sugarox represented a small, and largely silent, community of internet enablers, and so he viewed OTT consumers from a different angle. “From our perspective, there are at least three kinds of internet users in relation to OTT consumption. The first group is the connected user, for whom high-speed internet access is not a problem: this is about 250-300 million Indians. The second group is of Indians who are also connected, but who are still aspirational as far as complete digital media consumption is concerned, and the number is around 400 million. We feel that there is a huge gap between their ambitions and the full scope of content that our OTT partners provide. The third would be around 650 million people, who are still to be digitally connected. And these are the people who will be the next point of explosive growth for the country. There’s still a divide between India and Bharat, so there’s a lot of room to grow for OTT.”

On a humorous note, Saraswati said she had the advantage of being the only provider of brand content on the dais. “As far as branded content is concerned, consumers don’t mind if content comes from brands. However, in the OTT space, fictional content that is branded can be challenging and most brands are taking a non-fictional content approach. From Omnicom Media’s perspective, last year was a very good one. We created our own IPs in travel, music and other lifestyle genres, which have all primarily rested on digital.”

Seth, while referring to Choudhury’s point on the divide between India and Bharat, noted that this gap wasn’t just limited to connectivity and content. “There’s definitely a content story, but there’s also a device story. We’re talking about a market that is second in smartphone penetration; we are ahead of the US and just behind China. India is a mobile-first country, where people like the comfort of watching their chosen content on their personal devices. But then there are also the larger screens meaning connected TVs, which are driving TV content.”

“If my number is correct, we’re currently at 10 million connected TVs, a number that is expected to grow by four times in the next two years. So, the Indian market is ready to go in for premium content and they also want good audio-visual playback. It’s an entire ecosystem where services provide content, and devices provide quality playback for that content, and all these pieces are going to drive each other’s growth,” Seth added.

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