Katiyabaaz brought global acclaim to director Deepti Kakkar but the film that looked into the menace of power theft had an indifferent theatrical run in India in 2014. It found space with over the top (OTTs) services though streaming services had only those many takers in the country then. For the moviegoers, OTTs time had not come, yet.
Six years down the line and India can’t have enough of digital content, be it news, entertainment, social, short videos or story-telling, there is a huge demand.
The explosion of digital content, rising monetisation potential accompanied with a boom in streaming channels offer a huge opportunity to content providers and investors alike, triggering talks of “content-based commerce”.
"There are platforms that are hungry for content. A lot of us are consuming it on our devices. The funding and grants in general have improved. The landscape has changed and the moment is right,” Kakkar, who runs an eight-year-old production house Globalistan with husband Fahad Mustafa, told Moneycontrol.
Also read: COVID-19 impact | Paid OTT subscriptions rise nearly 60% to 100-125 million in 2020: Report
Content, the new ecommerce?
Smartphones, cheap internet data and the coronavirus outbreak have accelerated the consumption of digital content.
India has more than a billion mobile phone users and 750 million internet users. By 2025, the number of internet users is expected to grow to more than 974 million, says data platform Statista. That is a big untapped market.
In 2016 when Amazon and Flipkart locked horns during the festival sale, they clocked sales worth $1.5 billion during the nearly week-long event. Four years later, ecommerce as a sector has grown multi-fold, with sales of around $4.1 billion in the first week of the festival sale. Content has the same growth potential, say insiders.
Consumers are not bound by genres—films, documentaries, gaming, stand-ups, musicals, news and analysis—there is an audience for everything.
"There's an organic appetite for whoever to make whatever they want and there are people who are going to consume it because we have found level ground," said Kakkar, who was closely associated with hit Netflix series Leila. They are working on an international project for a streaming service but refused to share details as an official announcement has not been made. Globalistan is one of the many content-generators to have benefitted from the spurt in consumption.
Spotting an opportunity, global tech giants are also entering this space. Google recently funded regional language news and content aggregator Dailyhunt. While Dailyhunt's parent VerSe Innovation raised$100 million from the tech giant, inMobi's Glance raised $145 million from Google and Mithril Capital to become unicorns.
Some of the other prominent deals in this space include Dream Sports' $225 million-fund raise. Dream Sports is the parent firm of fantasy gaming platform Dream11, which was the title sponsor of the recently concluded Indian Premier League, the domestic Twenty20 tournament.
Chingari and Mitron, Indian startups that stepped in to fill the gaping hole left by the ban on popular Chinese short-video app TikTok, too, have seen a lot of investor interest.
While Chingari has already raised $1.3 million, it is also in talks to raise another $10 million round. Controversy over its Made in India claims aside, Mitron claims to have 33 million downloads in less than a year of its launch and has raised $5 million already. Chingari says it has had more than 40 million downloads.
India saw the investments in the online content space doubling to around $900 million in 2020 compared to around $400 million the previous year, data from investment bank Avendus shows.
"As a sector what content has done globally is that it has made a lot of money for people. If you think of some of the largest companies in the world—Facebook, Tencent, Google—all of them have been in the content space. People have seen that happening,” said Neeraj Shrimali, Executive Director Avendus Capital.
In India while monetisation was an issue, the bigger problem was there were not a meaningful number of people. “Over a period of time, the internet and smartphones have become very meaningful for the lives of hundreds of millions of people. We are migrating towards the kind of engagement the West and China and many other markets have seen," Shrimali said.
And investors know that once you get the reach and frequency, there is no looking back.
Why Google is going local?
Google has understood the importance of local languages. Among India’s 1.3 billion people, not more than 200 million people read and speak English, Shrimali said.
The remaining 800-900 million people can’t read or follow content in English or follow drama series. The future is local languages and Google knows that.
"The reach of the internet is so different and if people are coming, consuming and spending their time, eventually monetisation will come and that's what is driving investors to really come into interesting platforms and be there for the long term," Shrimali said.
Forced in by lockdown, mobile phones were the only source of entertainment for millions of Indians. Even as people get back to business, the market has witnessed the shift in consumer preference, which has now moved from television and print to mobile.
For instance, before it was blocked on June 20, a TikTok subscriber was spending an average of 52 minutes a day on the app.
Independent e-commerce analyst Sreedhar Prasad said with the new way of working, the time spent on devices—phones and laptops—had significantly increased and so had the consumption of content.
"Interest in digital content across health, wellness, trivia and politics has significantly increased, leading to a habit formation or habit reinforcement. This could translate to content-based commerce, which is expected to be the next wave," Prasad said.
According to bankers, investors have just got started with the content space. They say investments can easily cross $1.5 billion in 2021. The areas could range from daily fantasy like gaming, social videos to literature, which includes storytelling and comics to serious content such as news.