Benita Chacko

The rising presence of South Indian content on OTT decoded

South Indian OTT platforms Aha and Koode forayed into Tamil content, while Sony Liv and Amazon Prime have recently introduced Kannada content.

Earlier this month, Sony Liv exclusively acquired the rights to stream late actor Puneeth Rajkumar’s last film, James. This was a part of the streaming platform’s efforts to amplify its regional content library as it inaugurated Sony Liv’s Kannada content library. Recently, Amazon Prime Video also collaborated with NammaFlix, an exclusive Kannada video streaming service, to offer Kannada language content across genres. aha, a Telugu OTT platform, announced the launch of its Tamil slate. Zee5, which already had Tamil content on its platform, ramped it this month with a new slate.

All these developments indicate the rising trend of OTT platforms venturing into South Indian language content. A recent Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) report titled ‘Regional is the new national – Way Forward for the South India Media and Entertainment Industry’ revealed that the South Indian streaming and digital media market is growing at over 25 per cent, the fastest growing medium in the media and entertainment verticals. It is expected to be worth around Rs 16,200 crore by the end of 2022.

Many south Indian language movies have recently taken the OTT space by storm and many large OTT platforms are increasingly betting on these movies.

Sameer Nair
Sameer Nair

The population of the five southern states are largely non-Hindi speakers. In recent times some of the films from these regions have become pan-Indian with a larger audience coming in from across the country. “They have their own matured and vibrant television and print industries. Then, why not in the streaming business. It was about time,” says Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment, (a production house backed by the Aditya Birla Group).

It was just a matter of time before the national players started entering these markets, because it has some of the biggest SVOD markets right now, including Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. It makes it a go-to market for all players as the audience is willing to watch content in the regional language.

Keerat Grewal
Keerat Grewal

“There is already a regional content consumption market available, as films and television do well here. OTT just makes another screen available,” said Keerat Grewal, Partner, Ormax Media.

In the five southern states, OTT’s penetration is almost 30 per cent and South India’s overall contribution to the OTT universe is 25 per cent.

“So they are fairly significant. The South has an overall OTT population of around 89.3 million people. So it is definitely a very critical zone for all OTT platforms to look into,” she adds.

Applause Entertainment, which has earlier produced South Indian OTT content like Humble Politician Nograj (Kannada), Vadham and Kuruthi Kalam (Tamil), are in the works to create more such content. It has collaborated with Geetha Arts (a film production and distribution company owned by Allu Arvind, who also owns Aha) for a four-show deal. One of the shows will be ‘Half Lion’ that is based on the life of the former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. Apart from Hindi, it will also be released in Tamil and Telugu.

Just like with Hindi content, Nair says that the fiction space in South India was also occupied with daily soap operas. “In that aspect, the South is no different from the north. We missed our HBO Showtime moment, both for Hindi as well as the languages. Now the opportunity is to create high-quality premium drama series which can go across genres. And do it in a manner that we are used to seeing internationally. In the last 4-5 years, Hindi has done quite a few of these and it can happen in the languages as well,” he says.

Dubbing and subtitles also gives creators the opportunity to reach audiences pan-India. “So a fantastic show produced in Tamil Nadu can be watched not only across India but even across the globe. So each of these states can become a mini South Korea,” Nair adds.

Expanding to South Indian languages not only enables the platforms to garner more subscribers in those regions, but also in other areas. For example, even in the Hindi-speaking areas as there is a strong demand for South Indian language content in those regions.

Aha’s Telugu content resonated with audiences across about 100 countries in the world, including the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. With Tamil it expanded to Southeast Asia and the Middle East, regions where the Indian diaspora has a large presence.

Ajit Thakur
Ajit Thakur

“As we add languages we add countries.The 100 per cent local proposition works as well in the international market as people want to stay connected with their local language,” says Ajit Thakur, CEO, aha, who intends to bring a Malayalam slate next.

“The revenue base is not just limited to India, but includes international audiences as well. Those are higher paid audiences making it a far more lucrative proposition for them,” Grewal suggests.

When national players like Amazon Prime, Sony Liv or Zee5 make in-roads into these regional markets, they also give a stiff competition to the local players like Aha and Koode. When the pan-India players enter the market, they provide more variety in the content.

As the market evolves audiences will see more value from platforms, which provide more content outside just their language. These platforms also come with strong libraries of international content, which is also available in dubbed languages. This will give tough competition to the smaller players,” she adds.

“The global platforms have seen the opportunity here. They are coming with bigger paychecks and marketing budgets. The competition is much higher but I believe that our USP will allow us to always have a proportionate share of the local market compared to the bigger platforms,” adds Thakur.

He says the market will continue to grow for some time, until it consolidates. “For the next three to five years global and local players will continue to coexist. The audience will be even more evolved and matured. They will not just watch content in their local language, but all languages with subtitles. But there will continue to be a huge need gap in local content as there is not enough being created,” he says.

The Malayalam OTT platform Koode recently launched its Tamil slate and is in the process of setting up a dedicated content studio in Chennai. It plans to foray into Kannada in the next few months.

Radhakrishnan Ramachandran
Radhakrishnan Ramachandran

Radhakrishnan Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Studio Mojo, which owns Koode says the pan-India OTT platform’s interest is primarily around big budget movies with big stars. “We will provide an alternative platform to the small and medium budget movie makers where good scripts will be the deciding factor,” he says.

He feels that the larger players mainly focus on movies and there is a big need gap for other original content. “We are trying to fill that gap by experimenting with other genres. We work with talented creators and artists across multiple genres. We are working on new formats like hour-long original movies. We also launched a crime series based on real-life events,” he says.

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