Language-specific over-the-top (OTT) platforms are turning out to be strong competitors for national video-streaming platforms like Disney+Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.
A look at the subscriber base shows that Bengali OTT Hoichoi, has added 1.3 crore subscribers in three years of its launch, and is not far away from top national OTTs.
While Vishnu Mohta, co-founder, Hoichoi, did not share the exact number of subscribers, he said that, in terms of subscription, there was a huge growth and COVID-19 has a big part to play in it.
For the platform, the market is as big as 250 million Bengalis in the world, he said.
According to Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media, a media consulting firm, the pandemic has helped all SVOD (subscription video-on-demand) platforms to increase their paid subscriber base by about 30-50 percent over the last 1.5 years, because of higher adoption of streaming as a category on the whole.
If we calculate a 30 percent growth in Hoichoi's subscriber base in the last 1.5 years, it comes around 1.6 crore subscribers, which would put regional OTTs in the third place, with Disney+Hotstar at 3.51 crore and Amazon Prime Video at 1.8 crore, as of June 2021.
In its fifth year, Hoichoi is focusing on content partnerships, instead of content syndication, said Mohta.
“What we did over a period of time, and COVID has a part to play in it, we realised that the customer is willing to pay either directly or indirectly. So, a lot of customers were coming through partner platforms. So we felt it was a better way to monetise content where we work with partners to get distribution and bundling partnerships as opposed to syndication partnerships," said Mohta.
"We will not license our content anymore, going forward, except for the dubbed content, which we continue to do with MX Player. The Bengali content will only be available through distribution or bundling partnerships," he said.
The platform, which offers Bengali content, dubbed in Hindi, is now planning to dub in other languages, including Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.
Mohta also highlighted about their partnership with Prime Video Channels. “When we make our content available on the Apple App store, Fire TV, Google App store, what we are doing is selling our subscription and using their payment gateways. This (being content partner for Prime Video Channels) is an extension of that. It widens the reach in a big way, starting with India," he said.
Along with partnerships and Indian subscribers, Hoichoi is also betting big on international markets, especially Bangladesh.
“Forty percent of Hoichoi's subscription revenue comes from outside India. Bangladesh is a huge market for us. It is 4-5 years behind India, which makes it exciting, especially as it is a market that only has Bengali as language, and has a population of around 160 million," he said.
The platform had started with 20 percent revenue from global markets and that saw a second-level growth when Hoichoi was launched in Bangladesh in 2019.
“We have been there for the last two years with local content. Last year, we couldn't release as many shows as we wanted to but the two shows we did were huge hits and that got us huge advantage. In our fifth year, we want to do six (original) shows," said Mohta.
Along with Bangladesh, overall, the platform will add 30-35 originals, taking the total number of originals to 100 by the end of 2022.
While Hoichoi leads in the regional OTT space, in terms of subscriber base, there are many language-specific OTTs that are creating their space in the video-streaming market.
Regional OTT growth
Telugu OTT Aha, which was launched in February last year, has, so far, got on board 1.5 million subscribers.
Then there are platforms, including Planet Marathi, and Koode, which offers Malayalam content, and Oho Gujarati, among others.
According to industry estimates, players in the regional OTT space contribute around 40-45 percent to the overall video-streaming consumption. And viewers are going to these OTTs because of their content offering, which the national players are unable to provide.
All eyes on regional markets
Even the national OTTs are in the race to tap the regional subscriber base. Recently, Zee Entertainment's digital platform, ZEE5, announced that it will offer content, especially for the Punjabi-speaking audience.
Amazon Prime Video has also been strengthening its local content portfolio for quite some time now. A report by Media Partners Asia (MPA), an independent provider of research, advisory, and consulting services, notes that Amazon Prime Video's strategy is to push regional content to increase its subscriber base from 18 million in June 2021 to 21.8 million by the end of December this year.
Disney+Hotstar, which offers over 50,000 hours of content in eight languages, last year saw regional language content on the platform contributing more than 40 percent video consumption, with Tamil, Telugu, and Bengali topping the viewing patterns.
For national OTTs, regional content addition is important because the share of regional language consumption on OTT platforms will cross 50 percent by 2025 versus 30 percent in 2019, according to a recent FICCI-EY report.