Namah Chawla
Media

What explains the buzz around Gujarati OTT platforms - and where’s the return on investment coming from?

Comprising platforms like Oho Gujarati, Cityshor.TV, ShemarooMe and LetsFlix, Gujarati OTT is attracting attention. We spoke to some players in the space about where the buzz will lead.

From the world premiere of big budget films to offering content in regional languages, if the last year has done any good, it’s been the rapid rise of OTT platforms. These platforms offer a plethora of content across genres and languages.

Global players like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and domestic OTT players like SonyLIV, Disney+ Hotstar and VOOT have amplified their regional content slate. Many independent video-on-demand (VoD) services have also tapped into regional audiences, who are keen on exploring content in their native languages.

Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte India, points out that television started with a larger Hindi presence and then segmented by launching a host of regional channels. However, those consolidated later to be a part of the larger networks.

“We are seeing a similar cycle in both audio and video OTT. The regional markets are big when we think about them in terms of global numbers, with Gujarat having a population of around 50-60 million.”

Segmentation has, indeed, started and Gujarat, which has a short history of mainstream cinema or TV, has got multiple digital VoD platforms. In fact, the top five channels in the state are all Hindi General Entertainment Channels (HGEC). Most Gujarati shows that Colors Gujarati and other such channels telecast are shot in Mumbai. VOD is, thus, probably the first big attempt to tell local stories featuring local talent.

There are three players that offer Gujarati content. ShemarooMe, which is promoted by the Gadas, has announced that it will now create and distribute Gujarati content. For the players, Gujarat provides an untapped opportunity and Thakkar says that they have set their eyes on the diaspora.

Overview of some key Gujarati OTT players present in India:

What explains the buzz around Gujarati OTT platforms - and where’s the return on investment coming from?

The chase

The Gujarati language is spoken by more than 55 million people worldwide, and it is the sixth most spoken language in India. Says Pallav Parikh, co-founder of CityShor.TV, an entertainment platform which curates and produces original Gujarati web series, movies and short films, “Any player that gets into this industry has to make Originals on a continuous basis. It is not the case with other languages, where a variety of content is already available... It is challenging for newer players to enter this domain.”

In terms of content strategy, the platform promises at least one Original, either a movie or a web-series, per month to its subscribers. Parikh says that his platform aims to introduce new-age content for its audiences in multiple genres.

ShemarooMe is an intrinsic part of Gujarati entertainment, and has engaged with the audiences for over 15 years now. In an attempt to further expand its content slate in the language, ShemarooMe Gujarati was launched in April 2021.

Kranti Gada, Chief Operating Officer (COO), Shemaroo Entertainment, says that they have been redefining the way Gujarati audiences have been entertained across the globe through their robust Gujarati content line-up.

“Staying true to our promise of offering new content every week, we have lined up a plethora of exciting content that comprises of an entertaining mix of original web series, nataks, and blockbuster movies.”

Elaborating on the platform’s content strategy, Abhishek Jain, co-founder, OHO Gujarati, states, “We are relying on the regional ethos and stories that one may not have heard or seen on the mainstream platforms. There are so many incidents, stories and works of literature that are untapped and, being a regional OTT platform, one gets the benefit of keeping it simple and yet high on concept.”

LetsFlix, another regional OTT platform that earlier forayed into multiple languages like Marathi, Bangla and Bhojpuri, is all set to tap into the Gujarati market, with its offering ‘LetsFlix Gujarati’.

Some popular shows/movies offered by these OTT platforms

Vithal Teedi- OHO Gujarati
Vithal Teedi- OHO Gujarati
OK Boss- OHO Gujarati
OK Boss- OHO Gujarati
Swagatam- ShemarooMe
Swagatam- ShemarooMe
Vaat Vaat Ma- ShemarooMe
Vaat Vaat Ma- ShemarooMe
The street food journey of Gujarat- CityShor.TV
The street food journey of Gujarat- CityShor.TV
Millennial Zindagi- CityShor.TV
Millennial Zindagi- CityShor.TV

The conundrums

The discovery of content and technology is a major challenge for regional players. Thakker of Deloitte India informs that due to this, regional players have to invest heavily in brand building, algorithms and customer acquisition.

Jain of OHO Gujarati concedes that they have been facing technical challenges but, with each passing day, have also learned from their mistakes. Highlighting some of the challenges, he says, “… we are a content company that has taken up technology as a platform to showcase our work... Now, having gone through the initial hiccups, we feel more confident on the technical front. It is (still) a challenge to always offer something new, technically.”

To make the interface easier and more seamless for its users, ShemarooMe has made navigation and user interface available in three different languages - English, Hindi and Gujarati. “This makes it accessible to a wider user base, who are more comfortable in their native languages. It also makes the onboarding process simple as it is one of the most vital parts of a great user experience,” states Gada.

The race

Platforms like Netflix, Prime Video and SonyLIV have the advantage of a wider reach and, hence, more subscribers or users. Regional OTT platforms can give larger OTT platforms with bigger pockets a good competition, as they have the advantage of depth and breadth that the latter will never have.

“They can do a couple of shows in regional languages, but they won’t have the power of volume and power of velocity that a smaller and more focused player will have,” says Thakker.

However, the idea of regional OTTs is not to compete with the bigger players, but to cater to their respective segments with their unique offerings. They enjoy the advantage of in-depth understanding of people speaking a particular language, and approach their content strategy accordingly.

Parikh of CityShor.TV informs that since Gujarati is a relatively new industry, not many big players are keen on investing in the language. So, that cuts off any direct competition, in terms of content from the bigger players.

Gada explains that the idea for ShemarooMe is not to compete with the bigger platforms. Rather, it is to serve the untapped masses of India. “Once we focus on a region, integrate with and nurture that creative industry, we try to give them a platform and every possible backing. This goes a long way to strengthen our foundation by offering diverse and high quality content.”

To expand its reach across continents as well as build an engaging and loyal audience base, ShemarooMe has got into partnerships with local and global like-minded brands.

Jain believes that regional platforms can’t really beat their mainstream counterparts, in terms of reach or technical prowess. But regional has something more unique to offer that mainstream may not have its eye on.